During a single week in April, there were 18 driving deaths in Minnesota, most of them involving teens. In at least one crash, the driver was in violation of several of the state’s graduated driver license provisions. Graduated licensing is increasingly popular across the country, and incidents like this are prompting our legislators to tighten them.
One big problem is that each state sets its own licensing standards. And since most states insist on reinventing their own wheel, a patchwork of state standards has been enacted. Some have higher age minimums for obtaining a license. Others limit night driving or number of underage passengers. Most states have addressed phoning and texting while driving.
There is now a push in the US Senate to standardize graduated licensing rules in all states so there is a more even playing field. The proposed legislation would:
- Make getting a driver’s license a 3 step process, including a learner’s permit, a restricted license, and finally an unrestricted license.
- Prohibit nighttime driving without an unrestricted license.
- Prohibit cell phone use without an unrestricted license.
The proposed law makes sense. Accident research has shown that states that adopt a more restrictive licensing policy see a significant reduction in crashes, and a reduction in injury crashes of nearly 40%. Fatal crashes in young drivers was reduced by a whopping 75% in these states!
The major problem with the proposed legislation is that the penalties for states not complying are rather heavy-handed. Such states would face losing some of their federal highway construction funding. Many states would face this issue soon if the law was enacted as it is now written.
Concerned parents should communicate with their legislators and support these efforts to protect their children. More immediately, though, parents need to be involved in the driving decisions of their children. Don’t allow them to drive after dark. Limit the number of passengers they can carry. Require them to use their seatbelts. And make sure they understand the consequences if they choose to break these rules: immediate and non-negotiable loss of driving privileges for a set period of time.