Sixteen-year-old drivers crash more often than any other age group, researchers at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said in a study released this week.

Last year, 1,269 people died in crashes in cars driven by 16-year-olds, according to the study of police records nationwide.It found that crashes in the first year that most states allow teenagers to drive, usually at age 16, were far more likely to involve driver error and that speeding was especially likely. Fatal crashes also occur more often on Friday and Saturday nights.

Crashes involving 16-year-old drivers kill more teenage passengers than crashes involving 17- to 19-year-old drivers, the study found. It also found that single-vehicle accidents, such as when a car or truck leaves the road and runs into a tree or a pole, were the most likely type of accident for 16-year-olds.

Alcohol played a small part in the crashes for the youngest drivers. Only five percent of 16-year-olds killed in 1993 crashes had blood-alcohol concentrations of 0.10 or more, the level used by many states to determine drunkenness. This compares with 48 percent of 20- to 49-year-olds killed in crashes.

The institute said that states should consider graduated licensing programs which limit the hours, number of passengers and other restrictions to reduce crashes by the youngest drivers.

It said nine states have night driving curfews on beginning drivers, but no state has yet adopted a graduated driving program that controls both when a 16-year-old can drive and with whom.

The institute said such programs have been effective in New Zealand and elsewhere.