For many teens in the U.S., taking the classes, lessons and tests to earn their driver's license is a rite of passage that can't come too soon. The sense of independence granted by personal transport is symbolic of the actual independence to come as they reach adulthood.

But the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is calling for states to delay entry to their driver's license programs until age 17 or 18 in a bid to save lives.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers, according to the IIHS, and moving up the age requirement is a sure way to reduce the death toll, reports the AP. "The bottom line is that when we look at the research, raising the driving age saves lives," said Adrian Lund, president of the IIHS.

Similar arguments were made to support the states raising the drinking age to 21. The federal government even backed up the move by making highway funds contingent upon adopting the higher age limit. So far there is no sign of a similar movement forming for the driving age, but the IIHS has just begun to take the safety data to the public.

Already the safety group is approaching the Governors Highway Safety Association conference being held in Arizona. While the agency realizes it will be difficult to convince states to change their laws, Ann McCartt, IIHS senior vice president of research, says "it’s an important enough issue to challenge the silence and at least consider changing the age at which we allow teenagers to get their licenses to drive."

The UK is undergoing a similar movement, while at least one U.S. state has seen its own programs meet with success. By operating a graduated licensing system that limits teens to driving certain times of day and with a limited number of passengers, Michigan has reduced the number of 16-year-olds killed or injured in the state by 41% over the last ten years. Another important step could be making sure teens wear their seatbelts, as the NHTSA recently reported that over two-thirds of all teens killed in car crashes weren't wearing one.