OUR OPINION: Tighten the rules on teen drivers


Published March 10 2010
It’s easier for teens to get a drivers license in North Dakota than it is in any other state. That’s an “honor” North Dakotans should give up as soon as possible.
There are times when it’s good to stand alone. North Dakota remains the only state without voter registration, for example. That speaks volumes about the level of honesty and responsibility in the state.
Then there are other times.
“Currently, 49 states and the District of Columbia have enacted graduated drivers licensing legislation an effort to develop young drivers without putting them at greater risk,” reports the Safe Communities Coalition of the Northern Valley.
“North Dakota remains the only system that has yet to implement a three-phased GDL system.”
In other words, it’s easier for teens to get a drivers license in North Dakota than it is in any other state.
That’s an “honor” North Dakotans should give up as soon as possible.
Graduated drivers licenses give teens the time and space they need in which to become good drivers. It’s as simple as that.
Currently in North Dakota, the system works like this: Fourteen-year-olds and older can get a learner’s permit, letting them drive while accompanied by an adult. Six months and a round of tests later, drivers younger than 16 can get a minor’s drivers license, which carries few restrictions. Drivers older than 16 can get an unrestricted license
The system’s weaknesses show up in the months right after teens are turned loose with their minor’s or unrestricted licenses. As tragic experience has shown, many of those newcomers lack the judgment skills good drivers need — and no wonder, given that most have been driving only a few short months.
Add to that the distractions of friends in the car, ringing cell phones and driving at night, and you’ve got a recipe for — well, for stark facts such as this one: From 2001 to 2008 in North Dakota, teens were 9 percent of licensed drivers but accounted for 24 percent of total crashes.
“Teens are twice as likely to crash as drivers over the age of 85,” the coalition reports.
And of the teenagers killed last year in North Dakota in motor-vehicle crashes, only 12 percent were passengers in a vehicle driven by a person 20 years old or older, the coalition reports.
Forty percent were passengers in a vehicle driven by another teen. Forty-seven percent were the drivers themselves.
A final statistic — for this issue, the most important one of all:
“Analysis shows that adopting graduated drivers licensing laws will lead to substantial decreases of crashes for this age group — anywhere between 20 percent and 50 percent,” according to the coalition.
The GDL process mandates an intermediate or restricted license in between the learner’s permit and the unrestricted license. Typical restrictions bar the young person from driving at night and with more than one teen passenger at any time of day.
These modest lifestyle restrictions yield big benefits in saving lives and preventing injuries, the coalition notes.
Surveys suggest strong support among North Dakota drivers for this change. State legislators should get a bill ready for the 2011 session so that on this issue, North Dakota can shed its dubious status of standing alone.
— Tom Dennis for the Herald


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