- Update: Pennsylvania fails to pass tougher teen driving law
- Thousands of teenage drivers die each year in the US
- Laws across the US are changing to help stop teenage drivers from dying in accidents caused by inexperience
- Teenagers and parents alike should know the rules of the road for you young drivers
Across the country, stronger teen driving laws have reduced accidents by 40 percent. Pennsylvania though failed to pass a law that would have tightened up safety measures for its teen drivers.
In April 2009, the Pennsylvania House approved a bill for teen drivers that made cell phone use and the failure to use seat belts primary offenses. That meant police could stop and cite drivers for violations. The bill also limited young drivers to one non-family passenger under 18.
A year later, a very different bill came out of the Senate. The cell phone restriction was knocked down to a secondary violation, meaning that police could only cite teen drivers for cell phone use if they were stopped for another traffic violation or involved in an accident. Another amendment lets teens transport three non-family youths once they drive accident-free for six months.
House lawmakers then rejected the Senate’s version of the bill. Rather than pass a watered-down law, the bill’s original sponsors said they’d try again to get it right in the fall.
At any given time in the US, thousands of teenage drivers are on the roads. As a matter of logic, teenagers lack experience driving, and so there are thousands of deaths and accidents each year. What's being done about it?
Driving Changes in the Law
In 2006, Kyleigh D'Alessio and two other teens were passengers in a sports car driven by 17-year-old Tanner Birch. According to reports, the car veered off the road and slammed into a tree. Kyleigh and Tanner were killed; the other passengers were injured.
Several other teens in the same New Jersey county were killed in car accidents the same year.
In March 2010, "Kyleigh's Law" was passed by the New Jersey legislature. Under the new law:
- Beginning May 1, 2010, all driver's under 21 years old must display red decals on the license plates of the cars they're driving
- Drivers 16 years old with a learner's permit must be accompanied by an adult, wear a seat belt, avoid using cell phones and other devices while driving, and can't drive at all between 11 PM and 5 AM
- Drivers 17 years old can get a one-year provisional license allowing them to drive without an adult. They must wear a seat belt, avoid using cell phones and other devices while driving, and can 't drive at all between 11 PM and 5 AM
New Jersey isn't the first state to pass more restrictive laws when it comes to teenage drivers. For example, under laws passed in Ohio in 2007, teen drivers:
- Must complete a certain number of hours of classroom and on-the-road education, as well as a number of hours of on-the-road practice outside formal driver's education classes, before they're eligible for a regular driver's license
- Those under 17 may have only one passenger who's not an immediate family member unless they're accompanied by their parent or legal guardian
- With learner's or temporary permits, drivers under 18 can't drive between midnight and 6 AM without a parent or guardian who has a valid license
- With a regular license those at 16 years old can't drive between midnight and 6 AM without a parent or guardian who has a valid license, except for school, emergencies, or work. Driver's 17 years old have the same restriction, but they're restricted from driving between 1 and 5 AM
Many states have similar laws. Violations mean fines or more restrictions on a teen's driving privileges. Kyleigh's Law, however, is the first to require the use of decals. They're meant to help police officers identify teenage drivers who aren't following the curfew or passenger restrictions. Failure to display the decals is a $100 fine, on top of any other fine for violating curfew or passenger restrictions.
Unfortunately, the decals may not be working. According to one report, teens aren't buying the $4 decals, as required by the law.
Sadly, Kyleigh's death isn't something out of the ordinary. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2008 (2 years before Kyleigh's death), nine teens ages 16 to 19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries. These scary statistics are fueling discussions and debates about a national standard for teen drivers.
Each state has its own rules about when teenagers can get a learner's permit, how much instruction is needed, and restrictions on passengers and when they can be on the road. Federal lawmakers want to change that. They've proposed a new law, the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act of 2009 (Stand Up Act). If passed, any driver under 21 will:
- Need to pass through three steps or levels of education, training, and experience in driving before they may qualify for a regular or "unrestricted" license
- Not be permitted to drive at night without supervision during the first two stages (ages 16 to 18)
- Not be allowed to use cell phones or other communications devices during the first two stages, unless there's an emergency
The law is in the early stages of being passed. If you like or don't like the idea of a national standard, you should contact your elected officials in the US House of Representatives and Senate and let them know how you feel.
Know the Rules
Teenage drivers and their parents need to know the rules of the road. Your state's department of motor vehicles should have the information you need. Look for things like:
- Restrictions on when a teenager may drive
- When an adult needs to be with the teen driver, and whether the adult must be a parent or any adult over a certain age
- Restrictions on cell phones and other devices, including if they apply to handheld and hands-free devices
- Fines and other penalties for violating the teen driving laws
Of course, no one wants their child hurt or killed in an accident. But there are other consequences, too. If your child doesn't have a job yet, you may have to pay the fines. And don't forget about your insurance. If your teen driver is on your policy, traffic tickets and fines he gets may cause your premiums to go up.
Talk to your teen about driving safely, and about knowing when to avoid riding with another teen driver. With some common sense from teens, help from parents, and stiffer laws, we can stop losing thousands of young lives each year.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Are parents responsible for injuries caused by their teen driver who was violating teen driver's laws?
- Can a teen passenger get a ticket for riding with a teen driver in violation of teen driving laws?
- As an employer, do I face any legal problems if I help a 17 year old employee get an exemption allowing him to drive to and from work without an adult passenger?