Wait for license saving lives?

Chicago Sun-Times

Wait for license saving lives?

ILLINOIS | With 9-month learning period, teen driving deaths plunge

January 29, 2009


BY MARY WISNIEWSKI Transportation Reporter mwisniewski@suntimes.com

Rafael Mendez, a 15-year-old St. Patrick High School sophomore, said he doesn't mind waiting nine months between getting his driver's permit and getting his license if it makes him a better driver.

"Safety is important," said Mendez. "I'd rather have a lifetime of driving rather than a period of not driving because of an injury."

Since last January, Illinois teens have had to wait nine months instead of three months to get their licenses, and new drivers must wait a year before they can carry more than one teenage passenger. New statistics indicate that the "graduated driver licensing" law is having an effect -- the number of Illinois teens 16-19 who died in car crashes dropped more than 40 percent in 2008 to 92 deaths, from 155 in 2007.

Some of the drop may be due to less driving because of high gas prices. But total Illinois driving deaths in 2008 fell by just 20 percent, so teen fatalities have seen a more dramatic decline.

"Every state in the nation should follow Illinois' example by passing and enforcing strong, effective teen driving laws," said Judith Lee Stone, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

The new law increases the amount of road time required in driver's ed programs and requires that a teen cited for a moving violation go to court with a parent to get court-supervised driving privileges. A pre-2008 change in the license law doubled the amount of time teens have to spend driving with their parents before being licensed -- to 50 hours.

Taft High School driver education director Michael Hionis, whose school won a Teen Driving Safety Award from the secretary of state Wednesday, said he likes the nine-month rule because it forces teens to gain experience in different seasons of the year. "They need to be ready for next winter and beyond," Hionis said.

Hionis, who has taught driving since 1971, said he thinks teens take it more seriously than they used to but face a distraction challenge from electronic devices.

"The text messaging phenomenon has gotten out of control," Hionis said. "You can't multi-task well. Driving is something very important that you have to single task to be successful."

Chris Jedd, 16, a junior at Taft, has waited a year for his license because it wasn't always easy to get the hours in with his parents. But he said he didn't mind waiting in order to get experience driving in all conditions. Asked what he's looking forward to, Jedd smiled and said, "personal freedom."



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