States Restrict Teen Drivers
By Summer Crabtree, Staff Assistant
Driving accidents among sixteen-year-olds are the number one cause of teenage deaths in the United States, far outstripping more highly publicized causes such as school violence and drug abuse. One of every two of the four million teens who become new drivers each year have accidents during their first twelve months on the road ranging from minor to fatal, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says.
Thirty-five states have tried to reduce the staggering teenage driver accident rate by enacting graduated licensing programs which give young drivers motoring privileges in stages. While details differ, the programs steadily increase the driving privileges given teens as they gain experience and maturity.
Michigan in 1997 became the first state to implement restrictive driving laws for teenagers. In its program, the first stage for a fledgling young motorist requires a written test and six hours of on-the-road driving accompanied by an instructor. The second stage involves a defensive driving class, fifty hours behind the wheel with a parent or legal guardian, and a road test administered by state authorities. Only after completing the third stage -- 12 consecutive months of accident-free, no-moving violation driving -- does a teen qualify for an unrestricted license.
Each stage of the program at least a six-month possession of that stage's permit or license, so a young person must be at least 18 before he or she becomes a full-fledged driver.
These restrictive licensing programs may be a bitter pill for sixteen-year-olds impatient to mark the coming-of-age that a driver's license signifies, but states that have them are seeing gains in reducing accidents. Officials in Michigan saw a 28 percent drop in the number of 16-year-olds involved in auto accidents in the twelve months after the law was enacted.
Mike Bray, a driver's education instructor for the Haslett Michigan Public Schools says "the combination of getting more driving experience behind the wheel and better training before getting restrictions lifted, makes (teens) better prepared."
"Once the teenagers get their licenses, they appreciate them more due to all the training," says Kurt Ganet of Michigan's ABC Training and Testing Office. Driving violations committed during any of the three stages may result in six months to a year of driving probation.
A unique aspect of Michigan's teen licensing programs is the required parental or family involvement to ensure responsible driving by the young person behind the wheel. Ganet says that this is "very successful" and especially liked by the parents and the teenagers, who often chalk up the 50 hours driving to a vacation destination."
States with graduated driver's licensing for teens include:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- West Virginia