- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2001

Strengthening state laws that restrict driving by teen-agers could prevent 1.5 million car crashes and save Americans $9 billion over the next decade, AAA said yesterday.

Such restrictions, called graduated driver licensing (GDL), grant teens driving privileges in three stages, rather than giving them full privileges at once. Most states have changed to the GDL system in the past four years.

"Teens aren´t bad people," said Susan Pikrallidas, AAA vice president of public affairs. "They´re just bad drivers who tend to be inexperienced and immature."

While they represent only 7 percent of the driving population, teen drivers are involved in 15 percent of fatal vehicle crashes and 18 percent of total crashes. In 1999, the economic cost of those incidents amounted to more than $32 billion.

Aimed at protecting teen-age drivers from themselves, GDL laws are currently enforced in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Only Alabama, Hawaii, Montana and Wyoming have not yet passed GDL legislation.

The AAA is urging that states examine their current GDL laws to include "the three most effective provisions": limits on nighttime driving; restrictions on the number of passengers; and requiring new drivers to remain free of accidents and traffic violations before gaining increased privileges.

States with strong GDL laws can expect "a 15 percent reduction in crashes and 15 percent reduction in injuries and a 2.5 percent reduction in teen deaths," the AAA said, basing its estimates on injury and crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The program doesn´t "target teens" but is rather "targeting safety" and consequently saving lives, Mrs. Pikrallidas said. Teen opinion of the restrictions is mixed.

"Most teens are upset with this program because they don´t get to drive as soon as they want to, but personally I think it´s for the better," said Parker Manis, 17, of Nazareth, Pa., who will be a high school senior this fall and is currently waiting for his permanent driver´s license. "The six months and 50 hours just give you more driving experience."

GDL manages teen-age driving experiences systematically by gradually introducing teens to the traffic system through a three-stage progression. New drivers practice basic skills and safe practices under total supervision, and then move up to driving alone during low-risk time periods. In the final stage, teens are usually issued an unrestricted license after passing a final road test and successful completion of stage two with no violations.

Results from AAA research attribute teen-agers´ role in crash statistics to poor judgment, inexperience, inadequate driving skills, risky behavior and a sense of invulnerability. Some of those characteristics can be improved when classroom driving training is combined with increased parental involvement. While the GDL program requires 50 hours supervised practice, AAA thinks "that parents should view [those hours] as a minimum."

Sandra Newhard of Nazareth, Pa., who is raising two teen-age drivers ages 17 and 18, agrees, saying that in her experience more parental interaction with young drivers is "well worth it."

"I think parents should definitely spend more time on the road with their teen-age drivers because the kids don´t seem to want to adhere to the rules," Mrs. Newhard said. "It´s 'yeah, yeah, these are the rules and this is what the book says — I´m ready to go do it now,´ and they´re just not learning the basics."

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