Archive for Thursday, March 26, 2009

State’s new teen driving changes overdue

March 26, 2009

The Lawrence Journal World recently had this to say about legislation to change teen driver license qualifications.

A bill that’s on its way to the governor’s desk will place some reasonable new restrictions on new drivers in Kansas.

The restrictions put Kansas in line with 48 other states and seeks to respond to some of the greatest dangers facing young drivers. Strong enforcement of the new restrictions should add to the safety not only of teen drivers but everyone on Kansas roads.

Rather than simply raising the age to obtain a drivers license, the restrictions seek to better prepare new drivers to handle motor vehicles. Teens still can get a learner’s permit, which allows them to drive when accompanied by an adult, when they turn 14, but they will have to drive on that permit for 12 months, instead of the current six months, before graduating to a restricted license. Under a restricted license they can drive unsupervised to and from work or school and transport adult passengers and siblings, but no other passengers under the age of 18.

Kansans still can obtain a full license at age 16 but they will face some additional restrictions for the first six months on that license. During that time, they can have no more than one non-sibling passenger under 18 in their car and they must quit driving by 9 p.m. unless they are driving to or from work or school. Use of “wireless communication devices” also are prohibited during that six-month period.

Previous efforts to restrict teen drivers by raising the age to get a license had met with opposition often from parents who needed teens to drive farm vehicles or appreciated the convenience of teens being able to transport themselves to work, school and other activities. The new bill retains the “farm permit” for teens 14 or older but adds restrictions to other licenses that address the most dangerous situations for teen drivers.

Getting rid of the cell phone is a great start, and, as any driver knows, having passengers in the car, let alone a car full of other teens, can be a dangerous distraction. Restricting the number of young passengers in the car and getting relatively new drivers off the road after 9 p.m. unless they are driving to or from school or work is a strong safety step. Applying those restrictions for the first six months of a full license may not be long enough, but it’s a start.

The penalties for license violations also take a zero-tolerance approach. Teens would have their licenses suspended for 30 days for a first offense, 90 days for a second offense and a year for a third offense. Those penalties should get the attention of young drivers, but they will only have an impact if they are vigorously enforced — hopefully before an accident occurs.

According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, teen drivers were involved in 964 accidents in Douglas County in 2007. Every year more than 7,000 Kansas teens are injured or killed in car crashes. The new restrictions, which the governor is expected to sign into law, are a reasonable step to try to reduce those numbers and increase the safety of young drivers and their passengers.

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