Back-Seat Driver: New push to restrict teen drivers
By Tony Bizjak
Published: Monday, Apr. 27, 2009 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
California has put some serious restrictions on teen drivers the last few years.
If it were a parent, the state would be one of those "Because I said so, mister!" types.
No cell phones. No texting. No driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. for those under 18 in their first year behind the wheel. And, in most cases, no teen passengers.
The curfew and other rules are based on statistics showing teen drivers get into the worst crashes at night and when friends are aboard.
Call it tough love.
But California isn't tough enough, according to one road safety group.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety last week announced they are sponsoring federal legislation asking states to comply with uniform national restrictions on teen drivers. Noncompliant states would be denied some federal transportation funds.
"California has a pretty good program, but it could be better," said Judie Stone, the group's president.
Should her bill pass, California would be pressed to:
• Increase the minimum age for a beginner's permit from 15 1/2 to 16.
• Prohibit teens from driving with other teens in the car until they turn 18, rather than for just one year.
It's a concept called "graduated drivers licensing," or GDL.
The theory is that when teens start driving at 16 or 17, not only are they inexperienced, they're immature. And that makes them irresponsible. So, they should be protected with restrictions.
Statistics bear that out. Beginner teen drivers have a much higher crash rate than other drivers.
But how beneficial is GDL? Stone of the national safety group says studies indicate it reduces crashes in the under-age-18 group.
California officials, however, say they've seen mixed results – albeit leaning positive – since the state imposed its current GDL program a few years ago.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles is conducting a study now and will issue findings later this year.
One thing is clear: A lower percentage of 16- and 17-year-olds are getting licenses in California than in past years. Some officials think the GDL restrictions are a part of the reason.
But, increased costs of drivers education and drivers training classes also may play a part. In California, those who wait to age 18 can get their licenses without having to take any classes at all.
"You can just walk into DMV … and two weeks later, you get your license," the DMV's Jan Mendoza said.
She said her agency has noted an increase lately in crashes among 18-year-old drivers. The DMV study will look into whether the state's GDL program has played any role in causing that.
Meanwhile, one insurance company representative says that paints a confusing picture.