Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Congress Debating Further Restrictions on Teen Drivers

While all states require a restricted driver's license at age 16, a bill by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand would require all states set 18 years old as the minimum age for a driver's license with no restrictions. States that don't comply would lose precious federal highway funds.

Sen. Gillibrand is pushing the bill because of the high rate of serious accidents among teenage drivers. National accident statistics show that 16- to 19-year-old drivers have the highest rate of serious accidents and traffic violations of any age group. In addition, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has found that automobile accidents are the leading cause of death among U.S. teens. In 2008 alone, more than 4,000 teenagers were killed in car accidents!

The Gillibrand bill would require all 50 states to adopt a three-stage licensing system. At 16, youths could get a learner's permit, allowing them to drive ONLY when accompanied by a licensed driver 21 or older. After a waiting period of at least 6 months, they could qualify for an intermediate license, would would bar nighttime driving and prohibit drivers from carrying more than one friend at a time, unless accompanied by a 21-year-old licensed driver. At the age of 18, they could qualify for an unrestricted license.

The bill has resulted in complaints from teens and some parents that the increased restrictions will be difficult for suburban and rural families, who rely on cars for transportation.

David Snyder, vice president and associate general counsel of the American Insurance Association, responds that "safety is far more important than convenience" and that most parents agree when they hear the data regarding how dangerous teen driving is. The insurance industry's bigger problem will be House Republicans, who are reluctant to take control of licensing from the individual states.

In Washington state, a learner's permit can be obtained at 15, and a restricted license at 16 years old. A full, unrestricted license is available at 17 if the teen driver maintains a perfect driving record the first year, or if not, when they turn 18.

Some Teen Driving Statistics (2008 is the latest data available)
    •    Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 15- to 20-year-olds.
    •    16-year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age.
    •    16-year-olds are 3 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than the average of all other drivers.
    •    63% of teenage passenger deaths in 2008 occurred in vehicles driven by another teenager.
    •    81% of teenage motor vehicle crash deaths in 2008 were passenger vehicle occupants.
    •    The number of drivers ages 15-20 involved in fatal crashes totaled 5,864 in 2008.
    •    In 2006 (latest data available) crashes involving 15- to 17-year-olds cost more than $34 billion nationwide in medical treatment, property damage and other costs, according to an AAA analysis.
    •    In states with GDL programs that include at least five of the most important elements, there was a 20% reduction in fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers.