Watch CBSN Live

Restrictions on young teen drivers working: study

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers -- 37,000 teens have died in the past decade alone.

Now, a new study shows that states with the toughest "graduated licensing" programs -- special limits for young drivers -- are bringing those tragic numbers down.

Special section: Eye on Parenting
Special section: Back to School

On "The Early Show," CBS News Correspondent Michelle Miller shared a look at what's at stake for teens and their parents.

Miller reported that 16-year-old Michael Cantamaglia and his friend, 17-year-old Andrew Case, were killed in a horrific car crash. Their mothers found out from the nurse in the emergency room.

Marlene Case, Andrew's mother, recalled, "She said that they had two boys from a car accident and that somebody needed to go identify them. And I couldn't do it."

The boys were among six teens packed in a Honda SUV that night. At the wheel was a 16-year-old friend who had only recently passed his driver's test. The driver, Miller reported, had been smoking marijuana, then dropped his cell phone.

Marlene Case said, "So he bent down to try to find it and when he came up, he steered them straight into the embankment and flipped them."

Karen Cantamaglia, Michael Cantamaglia's mother, said, "It just takes one bad decision and it can change everything."

Case and Cantamaglia say they believe that, had tougher rules for new drivers been in place in their home state of Pennsylvania, their children might still be alive.

Case said, "If the law was in place, there would be no question. You would just say, 'That's the law.' You know?"

A new study shows that strong graduated license programs do save young lives. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found states with such programs had a 26 percent lower rate of fatal crashes for 16-year-old drivers.

Jackie Gillan, of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, says there are three key components to an effective graduated license program: restricting the number of passengers, restricting night time driving and preventing cell phone use.

"It's not just the teen drivers who are dying on our highways," Gillan said. "It's the teen passengers and it's other people like you and me who are sharing the road with these teens."

She added, "When states (enact an effective graduated license program), we have found that it almost immediately results in saving lives."

Safety advocates are now pushing Congress to pass a federal graduated licensing law.

Gillan said, "It doesn't make sense, when we know that they will save so many lives, to have a different set of rules for different rules in different states."

Opponents have raised questions about federal involvement in what they view as a state and personal matter.

But now, these two moms are speaking out so other families won't have to go through what they have.

Cantamaglia said, "They don't mean to hurt anybody and they don't mean to do the wrong thing. They're just ... kids, and they can't think of the consequences. It doesn't come to them until it's too late."

Despite the significant reduction in fatal crashes for 16-year-olds, the new study of graduated license programs found a small increase for 18-year-old drivers. The study's authors, "Early Show" co-anchor Erica Hill noted, say more research is needed to understand why.