Teens wanting to get fast and furious behind the wheel would have to wait a little longer to pack the car with friends or make late-night runs to the movies under legislation pending in Congress.
Although it might annoy teens seeking car keys and independence, the “graduated driver’s licensing” effort in Congress could combat the No. 1 killer of U.S. teens: car crashes. More than 10 American teens die each day, on average, in car crashes. In August 2011, for example, four high school football players died in an accident in New Jersey.
Decreasing crashes and insurance rates
The legislation seeks to establish minimum requirements in states for graduated licensing laws, which phase in full driving privileges by age 18. If passed, insurers expect the predicted reduction in teen crashes would keep auto insurance rates from rising or even cause a slight decrease.
Graduated licensing could have as much — or even more — of an effect in reducing crashes than anything since electronic stability control became a requirement for cars in 2006, says Bill Martin, senior vice president at Farmers Insurance.
“It’s hitting the heart of where most accidents happen – inexperienced driving and aggressive driving,” Martin says. “We’ve lost too many kids before they’ve learned how to drive themselves.”
The proposal is making its way through congressional committees. Its best chance of getting passed is as a part of the multibillion-dollar federal transportation bill, says Jacqueline Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a member of theSaferoads4teens Coalition. The coalition comprises insurance, consumer, safety, medical and other organizations pushing for a national standard for graduated licensing laws.
Aiming to stop teen crashes
Every state has some type of graduated driver’s licensing. However, few have all of the provisions included in the federal proposal, which is supported by organizations such as the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Research has found that states with graduated driver’s licensing programs have seen anywhere from a 20 percent to 40 percent decrease in crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers. For information about state laws on graduated driver’s licensing, visit the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety website.
Only one state, New Jersey, already is in full compliance with the federal proposal. Several other states – Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Tennessee – would need to make just one or two changes in existing laws to be in compliance, Gillan says.
Graduated licensing laws keep beginners out of high-risk situations during the early stages of driving, says Emily Pukala, a spokeswoman for Allstate.
The federal STANDUP (Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection) Act would establish these minimum requirements for states:
• Three-stage license process: Learner’s permit at 16, followed by an intermediate stage, then all restrictions lifted at 18.
• Passenger limits: No more than one non-family passenger under 21, unless a licensed driver over 21 is in the vehicle (learner’s permit and intermediate stages).
• Bans on non-emergency use of cellphones and other devices, including text messaging (learner’s permit and intermediate stages).
• Late-night driving limits: A curfew would be set for driving (learner’s permit and intermediate stages).
“It would almost be as if we had a cure for cancer and we gave it to the states and said, ‘Whenever you feel like it, we want you to distribute it to your population,’” Gillan says. “This STAND UP Act is a vaccination to protect teens in a very high-risk and very potentially fatal environment.”
Setting (speed) limits
A total of $25 million in grants will be available to states that comply with minimum requirements set by the STAND UP Act within three years of the federal law being enacted. States that meet those requirements will split that amount, which could be used to help enforce the law.
Sanctions are modeled after other laws such as the one in 1984 that established 21 as the minimum drinking age nationally. States that don’t follow the graduated licensing requirements within three years of its enactment would lose federal highway funding, up to 10 percent.
An Allstate survey found that nearly six in 10 Americans favor a federal law that would establish minimum requirements for graduated driver’s licensing.
The survey also found that:
• 66 percent back a minimum age of 16 to receive a learner’s permit.
• 69 percent favor requiring three stages of licensing.
• 70 percent support restricting unsupervised nighttime driving for those under 18.
• 65 percent support restricting the number of non-family passengers for drivers under 18.
• 81 percent favor a ban on talking on cellphones or texting while driving for younger drivers.
Steering teens away from danger
During Thanksgiving break in 2009, Andrew Case, 17, and five friends were heading to a movie theater in a Honda SUV on a rainy evening. About 8:45 p.m., the car, driven by a 16-year-old, crashed on a road in Pottstown, Pa., killing Andrew and another teen.
“The boy that was driving dropped his cellphone and bent down to pick it up. He lost control,” says Andrew’s mother, Marlene Case.
The driver had had his license for only about three weeks.
“I just don’t think that their brains are developed enough to make these critical decisions. They’re just too young, too immature,” Case says.
Case’s son was one of more than 5,600 people killed in crashes involving drivers ages 15 to 20 in 2009.
Graduated licensing requirements would bolster parents’ efforts to set rules such as limiting the number of unlicensed passengers, says Case, an emergency room nurse.
“If there were less kids in the car, that’s the main thing. If the laws are in place, the kids might say, ‘Oh, hey maybe we shouldn’t do this,’” Case says.
Gillan adds: “Who wants to say, ‘No, my mom won’t let me.’ It’s much easier to say, ‘No, it’s the law and I can’t do it.’”