New Teen Driving Act Proposed to Help Save Lives
Motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of teens in the United States, with an average of 11 teens dying in car crashes each day – more than 4,000 a year -- according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
To help stem the tide of teen deaths, a federal bill has been proposed to mandate state-enforced graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws, which would apply restrictions to novice drivers under the age of 21. Currently awaiting a congressional vote, the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection (STANDUP) Act establishes minimum licensing and driving requirements which states would have to comply with.
The STANDUP Act would make 16 the minimum age for obtaining a learner's permit and calls for a graduated, three-stage licensing process with a mandatory six month learner's permit period and a six month intermediate stage before an unrestricted driver's license can be granted at age 18.
Teens also are restricted from driving at night during the first two stages, and limited to having only one non-family member under the age of 21 in the car unless a licensed driver older than 21 is present. The act also forbids teens from texting and talking on the cell phone until they are issued a full, unrestricted license at age 18.
Supporters of the STANDUP Act say GDL laws help decrease accidents and fatalities involving teens, citing data from some of the many states where they have been instituted, including California -- where the number of passenger deaths and injuries resulting from crashes involving 16-year-old drivers declined by 40 percent in the three years following the introduction of the law, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.
Among these supporters are Robert and Eilene Okerblom, who lost their 19-year-old son Eric in 2009, when he was hit from behind by a distracted teenage driver while riding his bicycle in Santa Maria, Calif. The Okerbloms tell ParentDish that subpoenaed cell phone records revealed that the driver, a former high school classmate of Eric's, had been texting while she was driving. She pled guilty to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and received three years of probation and 100 hours of community service, including speaking to teens about the dangers of driver inattention.
Dedicated to ensuring that no other parent experiences such a tragic loss, the Okerbloms are working to raise awareness about the STANDUP Act, joining Allstate Insurance Company in its "Save 11" campaign, which calls on parents and teens to contact their representatives in Congress to encourage passage of the act.
"The average teen (girl) texts 80 times a day, and a 16-year-old is 10 times more at risk for having an accident when distracted," Robert Okerblom tells ParentDish. "We have the data to know what saves lives and the obligation to act on what we know, and we feel strongly about passing any legislation that prevents any needless injury or death."
However, some say graduated driver licensing laws are ageist, unfairly targeting teen drivers.
Alex Koroknay-Palicz, executive director of the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA), a youth-led nonprofit organization that defends the civil rights of young people in the United States, leads NYRA's fight against the STANDUP Act. Koroknay-Palicz tells ParentDish there hasn't been proper study of the effectiveness of GDL laws, citing a 2006 study that reported a decrease in California motor vehicle fatality rates for 16- and 17-year-olds, but an offsetting increase in 18- and 19-year-old drivers.
"This study demonstrates that graduated driving laws don't teach teens to drive safer, they just restrict opportunities to drive," Koroknay-Palicz says. "The more restrictions we place on young drivers, the more people will wait until 18 to get their license, which means they'll have less practice and no hours driving with a parent, which puts lots more untrained drivers on roads."
Koroknay-Palicz says the problem with the STANDUP Act is that it would, in essence, raise the driving age across the country. Instead, he suggests a policy that targets all new drivers regardless of age.
Bill Vainisi, General Counsel at Allstate Insurance Company, counters Koroknay-Palicz's comments, citing scientific evidence that critical regions of the brain involved in decision making are not fully developed in teens. Vainisi tells ParentDish graduated driving laws are not about singling out teens, but rather just a matter of trying to avoid those situations where statistics show they are likely to have accidents.
"If we have on average 11 kids dying per day, why not get them out of that situation and save a few of them," Vainisi says.
ParentDish contacted the American Civil Liberties Union regarding the STANDUP Act, but was informed in an e-mail from spokesperson Pamela Bradshaw that its Washington legislative office is not working on this particular act.
For more information on distracted driving, visit the Impact Teen Drivers and National Safety Council websites.
Related: Tired Teen Drivers Lead to Tragedy on the Road
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