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Published: Monday, 2/13/2006

Protecting young drivers

The statistics on teen-drivers involved in fatal accidents make a convincing case for stronger safety measures aimed at young license holders. Some states have already implemented restrictions on teenagers new to driving to deal with the disturbing numbers, but we agree with driving safety groups that few have gone far enough.

An analysis by the American Automobile Association of crashes caused by teenage drivers found that in the last decade, drivers aged 15 to 17 were involved in accidents that killed 30,917 people.

Nearly two-thirds of the victims were the passengers of young drivers, or pedestrians, or victims in other vehicles. AAA president Robert Darbelnet said it's time "to focus on the effects teen driver crashes have on others, in addition to the teen drivers themselves."

His group has joined with the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to push for uniform teen-driving laws across the country.

To varying degrees all states have introduced some driving restrictions on new licensees in recent years, but the coalition advocates want to strengthen them across the board with measures like more adult-supervised driving during the learner-permit stage and longer probationary licenses.

But the two most important precautionary requirements the safety groups are pressing would prohibit teenagers from driving with other teens in the car and impose a midnight to 5 a.m. driving curfew on teens with provisional licenses. Both measures are especially critical to reducing crashes involving young drivers, the groups say.

Ohio is one of 11 states that restrict only nighttime driving for teens. Vermont laws apply strictly to teen passengers. Six states, according to the AAA, have no restrictions on driving hours or teenage passengers.

The latter indulgence, says Mr. Darbelnet, has been shown to raise the risk for young drivers by 50 percent with just one teen passenger in the car, and to quintuple it with two or more. That's not really a huge surprise - tooling around with buddies often leads to lapses in judgment behind the wheel.

In the absence of laws governing teen driving, safety proponents are urging parents to at least forbid their teenagers from driving friends around until their age and experience are a bit more advanced. Prudent curbs on young drivers eager to put their newfound freedom in fourth gear have already produced significant safety gains, the study shows.

It's the best argument for stricter teen driving laws that can be made. It remains a sad and often tragic aspect of American life that our youngest drivers, though generally blessed with good eyesight, hearing, and reflexes, are such a risky age group out on the road.



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