Bill for Stricter Teenage Licensing Laws Gets Renewed Push

Accident volumes for young, high-risk auto insurance group in Delaware

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After stagnating in Congress last year, the effort to cut teen-driver accident rates through implementation of federal standards for state licensing laws has entered a second round with the reintroduction of the STANDUP Act.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), car crashes are the leading cause of death for American teenagers, largely due to their inexperience and immaturity. Teens have an accident rate four times greater than that of older drivers, which is the main reason they are considered a high risk car insurance group by insurers.

Graduated Licensing (GDL) systems–which require more experience behind the wheel, greater restrictions on the times of day at which beginning motorists can drive and later licensing thresholds for teen motorists–are widely regarded to be the most specific, effective method for reducing the rates of fatal and non-fatal crashes for the country’s youngest drivers.

The STANDUP (or Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection) Act would set a nationwide standard for GDL systems.

The legislation could not require nationwide adoption of these systems; only individual state governments have the authority to do that. Instead, the STANDUP Act would penalize states that do not adopt the standards within three years of the bills’ being signed into law. Penalties would come in the form of reductions in their amounts of federal highway funding.

Main components of the proposed federal standard include the following points:

  • A three-stage licensing process comprising permit (which could not be issued to a person under 16), intermediate, and non-restricted (which could not be attained until age 18) license levels
  • Restrictions on nighttime driving
  • Caps on the number of under-21 passengers that can be in the car with permit- and intermediate-stage drivers
  • Prohibition of cell-phone use behind the wheel

The bill also leaves open options for the US Secretary of Transportation to introduce additional standards, like requiring at least 30 hours of supervised driving before getting a license and imposing a minimum six-month permit period.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors in the Senate is Tom Carper, who from 1993 to 2001 served as governor of Delaware, a state that saw an extremely positive impact on accident rates for 16-year-olds in the years following the 2000 implementation of stricter licensing requirements.

Carper’s state saw a nearly 40 percent decline in the rate and total number of accidents involving 16-year-old drivers between 1999 and 2000.

By 2008, the annual rate and number of accidents involving 16-year-olds had fallen 60 percent from 1999 levels.

Delaware’s requirements already meet the proposed federal standards.

The CDC and a number of insurance companies have advocated for GDL upgrades as proven methods for cutting accident rates.

A study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that the implementation of GDL systems in the United States have been associated with approximately 40 percent reductions in fatal and non-fatal crashes among 16-year-olds.

“GDL systems address the high risks new drivers face by allowing them to get their initial driving experience under low-risk conditions,” according to the CDC.

According to polls, many would be welcoming of stricter licensing systems.

Insurers have voiced strong support for stricter licensing requirements, both at the federal and state levels. And surveys released by insurers and an insurance-industry-funded research organization show that both parents and teenagers themselves would also be welcoming of more stringent licensing requirements.

Results from a nearly 1,400-person poll released by Allstate showed that the majority of teens surveyed approved of nighttime, passenger and cell-phone restrictions.

When asked for their view of “a single law that includes a learner period starting at age 16, limits on late night driving and passenger limits for new drivers, prohibition of cell phones and texting” and an 18-year-old threshold for full, unrestricted licenses, 34 percent strongly approved, 40 percent somewhat approved, 18 percent somewhat disapproved and 9 percent strongly disapproved.

A survey of parents released last year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) showed even greater support for stricter provisions among parents, who told the Institute they favor GDL laws at least as strict as those already in existence.

“More than half think the minimum licensing age should be 17 or older,” wrote the authors of the report on the survey. “Most think night driving restrictions should being at 10 p.m. or earlier, and most favor limiting teen passengers to one or none.”

Whether the bill will receive more attention this legislative session remains to be seen.

A state-by-state breakdown of licensing processes in the United States can be found on the IIHS website.


About Ben Zitney
Benjamin Zitney has been covering the auto insurance industry for the past 2.5 years. Before coming to Online Auto Insurance News, he produced an extensive company history of the 30-year-old California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and worked at the Cal State Long Beach Daily Forty-Niner as a reporter, copy editor and news editor.

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