Quantifying the influence of safe road systems and legal licensing age on road mortality among young adolescents: Steps towards system thinking

Divera Twisk*, Jacques J.F. Commandeur, Niels Bos, Jean T. Shope, Gerjo Kok

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Based on existing literature, a system thinking approach was used to set up a conceptual model on the interrelationships among the components influencing adolescent road mortality, distinguishing between components at the individual level and at the system level. At the individual level the role of risk behaviour (sometimes deliberate and sometimes from inexperience or other non-deliberate causes) in adolescent road mortality is well documented. However, little is known about the extent to which the 'road system' itself may also have an impact on younger adolescents' road mortality. This, by providing a safe or unsafe road environment for all road users (System-induced exposure) and by allowing access to high-risk vehicles at a young or older age through the legal licensing age. This study seeks to explore these relationships by analysing the extent to which the road mortality of 10 to 17 year olds in various jurisdictions can be predicted from the System-induced Exposure (SiE) in a jurisdiction and from its legal licensing age to drive motor vehicles. SiE was operationalized as the number of road fatalities per 105 inhabitants/all ages together, but excluding the 10 to 17 year olds. Data on road fatalities during the years 2001 through 2008 were obtained from the OECD International Road Traffic Accident Database (IRTAD) and from the USA NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database for 29 early and 10 late licensing jurisdictions. Linear mixed models were fitted with annual 'Adolescent road mortality per capita' for 2001 through 2008 as the dependent variable, and time-dependent 'SiE' and time-independent 'Licensing system' as predictor variables. To control for different levels of motorisation, the time-dependent variable 'Annual per capita vehicle distance travelled' was used as a covariate. Licensing system of a jurisdiction was entered as a categorical predictor variable with late licensing countries as a baseline group. The study found support for the protective effects of SiE on adolescent safety. If SiE increased by one unit, the mortality rate of 10 to 17 year olds increased by 0.487 units. No support was found for a protective effect of late licensing for this age group. Thus, compared to young adolescents who are allowed to drive motor vehicles in early licensing jurisdictions, late licensing does not provide extra protection for pre-license adolescents. This finding is probably the result of the high risks associated with alternative transport modes, such as moped riding and bicycling. Also, the fact that the study only included risks to young adolescents themselves and did not include the risks they might pose to other road users and passengers may have contributed to this finding, because such risks are greater when driving a motor vehicle than riding a moped or a bicycle. Therefore, to advance our understanding of the impact of licensing systems, more study is needed into the benefits of early or late licensing, thereby considering these wider effects as well.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)306-313
Number of pages8
JournalAccident Analysis and Prevention
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Cross-country comparison
  • Early adolescence
  • Licensing age
  • Risk behaviour
  • Road mortality
  • Safe system approach


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