National Standards Sought for Teen Drivers

Jim Liebelt | Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University | Wednesday, May 5, 2010

National Standards Sought for Teen Drivers

Three Democratic senators are pushing legislation to create a national graduated driver licensing (GDL) law. They say it would replace a patchwork of state laws with a single national standard that encompasses proven safety policies for novice drivers.

Every state except North Dakota has a licensing program for teens that includes three phrases. The strongest programs include restrictions on nighttime driving, limits on the number of teen passengers and a minimum age of 16 for getting a learner's permit. Forty-two states allow learner's permits before age 16.

There is little debate about the effectiveness of good GDL programs on highway safety. States that impose major restrictions have seen crash reductions of 10%-30%, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In Massachusetts, fatal crashes involving drivers younger than 18 dropped 75% in the three years after the state implemented tougher restrictions for young drivers; injury crashes involving these drivers fell 38%.

What is sparking controversy is a key component of the proposed federal legislation: It raises the age at which young drivers can get a learner's permit from 14 or 15 in most states to 16; it also sets 18 as the minimum age at which young drivers can get an unrestricted license.

The Senate legislation, the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection (STAND UP) act for new drivers under 21, would:

•Establish a three-stage process with a learner's permit and intermediate stage before an unrestricted driver's license.

•Prohibit unsupervised nighttime driving during the first two stages.

•Prohibit non-emergency use of cellphones and other communications devices during the first two phases.

States failing to comply with STAND UP's minimum requirements after three years would lose some federal highway construction money.

Source: USA Today