Bill Would Give Grants to States for Stricter Teen Licensing Laws

A group of senators is pushing for $44 million in grants to be made available over the next two years to help states beef up their licensing standards for beginning drivers.

Graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs that delay full privileges for teen drivers have been touted as an effective way of cutting that group’s high accident rate, a major problem that has been highlighted by safety groups and auto insurance companies.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teenage motorists are four times more likely than older groups to get into a crash. And the CDC says that car crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for teens in the United States.

But the rate of crash-deaths for this group has been on the decline in recent years, and the CDC attributes that decline at least partly to the growth of GDL programs. These licensing procedures often set supervision requirements, limit the number of passengers that teens can have in the car and establish curfews after which teens cannot get behind the wheel.

The legislation would establish a standard for GDL programs and require states to meet those standards in order to receive the grants.

Delaware has been pegged as a success story of how GDL laws can help lower crash rates for the youngest drivers.

The state put into effect a strict GDL structure in 2000 that did the following:

  • Set a minimum age of 16 for a learner’s permit, with a mandatory six-month holding period
  • Required teens to put in 50 hours of supervised driving behind the wheel, with 10 of those being at night
  • Banned intermediate- and restricted-licensed teens from driving between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. until at least the age of 17
  • Set the passenger limit to no more than one person until at least the age of 17
Accident volumes for young, high-risk auto insurance group in Delaware

Click graph to enlarge

Residents saw nearly immediate effects. Between 1999 and 2000, the crash rate for 16-year-olds dropped 38 percent, according to the University of Delaware.

From 1999 to 2008, the total decline grew to 60 percent.

The new bill’s minimum standards are similar to Delaware’s. They would require states to have GDL guidelines that apply to new drivers under 21, establishing a permit and intermediate stage.

The permit stage would last for at least six months and would allow the teen to drive only when accompanied by a licensed driver over the age of 21. The learner would have to put in at least 40 hours of behind-the-wheel training.

The restrictions that come with an intermediate license include prohibitions on driving at night or with more than one non-family passenger under the age of 21.This stage lasts for at least six months, and the restrictions remain in effect until the driver is 18 years old.

In both stages, learning motorists would be banned from using cell phones while driving.

The provision has been tucked into a bill that provides funding through 2013 for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It is similar to another piece of legislation called the STANDUP Act that has received little attention from the Congress. The STANDUP Act would establish similar GDL standards and would withhold federal transportation funds from states who fail to implement the standards within a certain time frame.

If the new bill passes and states implement tougher standards that effectively cut the accident rate for the nation’s youngest drivers, the benefits could trickle down to all families by making cheap car insurance for young drivers a little bit easier to locate.

About John Pirro
John Pirro is a licensed fire and casualty insurance agent specializing in various aspects of the auto insurance industry. He worked in the auto body repair industry before taking a reporting position at Online Auto Insurance News.

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