Archive for Thursday, March 20, 2008

Teen driving law changes shouldn’t await tragedy

March 20, 2008

Ten years ago, a crash on busy Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park that claimed three young lives caused enough concern in the Kansas Legislature to spur changes in the state's teen driving laws. With the increased awareness of the loss of three lives, lawmakers increased the consequences of teens getting moving violations in obtaining full driving rights and made it a moving violation for those on restricted licenses to transport minors other than siblings.

The Kansas example is not unique. There have been efforts in Iowa and Illinois to change teen driving license requirements after teens die in crashes.

This year, the Kansas Legislature again considered changing teen driving laws. The bill would increase the driving age from 14 to 15 for a learner's permit and from 15 to 16 for a restricted license. An unrestricted license wouldn't be available until six months after turning 16, instead of at that age. The bill would have also banned drivers younger than age 18 from using wireless devices and limited when teens can drive unsupervised. Teens also wouldn't be able to drive more than one passenger under the age of 21 except for immediate family members.

With no recent tragedy giving emphasis to the effort, the bill stalled Monday in a House committee.

All the proposed changes are reasonable. Kansas shares with other states a "graduated driver's license" system for teens. But the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety rates the effectiveness of the Kansas system as "marginal." In the first three years after Wisconsin passed laws rated as "good," that state's saw a 18 percent decrease in the number of fatal accidents in 16-year-old drivers compared to the three years before the bill's passage.

Those numbers should be motivation enough for the Kansas Legislature to act. Unfortunately, it will probably take the headline making loss of life.

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