Law

Teen Driving Laws Aim to Curb High Accident Rates

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Young people all across the United States wait anxiously for their sixteenth birthdays — for many, it’s their first taste of independence. Yet we also have a problem in this country: the younger the driver, the more they are a danger to themselves and others. In response, many states have passed laws that restrict what exactly teens can do as behind the wheel. Read on to learn about the dangers that teen drivers face, the legislation that states have implemented in an attempt to protect teen drivers, and how that legislation has paid off.


Teens Driving

Statistically speaking, teens have high rates of accidents when driving. Here’s a helpful infographic to breakdown the statistics.

Teen Driving Safety

Courtesy of PhillipMiller.com.


Dangers for Teen Drivers

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is a huge problem for teenagers, especially with the influx of modern technology to which young people now have access. In addition to traditional driver distractions, such as eating or drinking in the car, adjusting the radio, or external distractions, teen drivers now have access to cell phones and navigation systems that take their attention away from operating the vehicle.

Texting and driving has become especially problematic, with approximately 41 percent of teen drivers reporting that they had texted or emailed while at the wheel. For the general public, text messaging makes getting into an accident almost 23 times more likely than driving without distractions. Teen-aged drivers spend 10 percent of the time out of their own lane when texting. Those statistics are concerning, and pose real risks to teen drivers.

Inexperience

Another obstacle that teen drivers have to overcome is inexperience. There are plenty of hazards that can crop up for drivers, such as animals running into the road, ice, or problems caused by other drivers. Often, older drivers will have spent more time behind the wheel and will have a better ability to react to the unexpected hazards.


Types of Teen Driving Laws

In many states, driving laws enacted in recent years split teen drivers into a few different categories. Each state has a different name for them, but in essence, they categorize drivers as beginner, intermediate, and fully licensed. Beginner drivers are usually those who have learner permits. There are laws that specify when exactly a young person can apply for a permit — usually age 16, although occasionally a little earlier. There are also laws that designate how long a driver must remain at beginner status, and the steps that the beginner driver must take in order to get a license and become an intermediate driver.

Intermediate drivers are those who have received their licenses but still are subject to certain restrictions. Intermediate drivers often remain designated as such until a certain period of time after receiving their licenses, generally six months to a year.

Once each state designates who fits into each category, there are laws that create requirements for drivers within those categories. Some of these types of laws include:

Passenger Restrictions

Some states have created laws that restrict how many passengers young drivers can have, and who those passengers can be. Passengers can be potential distractions to new drivers. Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia place some sort of passenger restrictions on intermediate drivers. The only states that do not are Florida, Mississippi, and South Dakota.

Nighttime Driving Restrictions

States also place driving restrictions on when young drivers can operate vehicles. Most of them surround “late night” hours, such as not allowing young drivers out between 11:00pm and 6:00am. Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia have some sort of nighttime driving rules. The only state that does not restrict when intermediate drivers can drive for at least some time period is Vermont.

Fully Licensed Ages

The point at which a driver “graduates” from intermediate to fully licensed also varies. For some states, it is a flat date of 18 years old, regardless of when the driver received a license. For others, it is a set period of time after receiving a license. This is one of the most varied driver restriction laws from state to state.


Case Study

Kyleigh’s Law

New Jersey was the first state to pass a Graduated Drivers License (GDL) decal law, also known as Kyleigh’s Law, in May 2010. Under this law, New Jersey drivers under the age of twenty-one must stick a pair of four-dollar red decals on their license plates, or be subject to a $100 fine. Kyleigh’s Law was passed after the death of Kyleigh D’Alessio, who was killed in car crash containing three teenagers, one of whom drove the car into a tree.

The purpose of the decals is to help the police identify GDL drivers who must adhere to curfews and restrictions about how many teenagers can be in the vehicle as passengers. GDL drivers cannot drive between 11:00pm and 5:00am, must be accompanied in the front seat by an adult who is above twenty-one years of age, possess a valid New Jersey driver’s license, and can have only one additional passenger unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.

According to a report published by the National Safety Council, more than five thousand people die each year in crashes involving teen drivers. Novice drivers are three times as likely to crash compared to those with more experience. Each week for five weeks after Kyleigh’s death, there was at least one fatal crash in New Jersey involving teen drivers with multiple passengers. Proponents claim that Kyleigh’s Law has proven to be effective in its first year of regulation.  A study conducted by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed a nine percent reduction in crashes involving teenage drivers within the first year of the law’s implementation. This amounts to the prevention of approximately 1,600 crashes. Challenged in the New Jersey Supreme Court for reasons stated below, the law was upheld in a unanimous ruling on the grounds that it constitutes a legitimate state interest of  ensuring vehicular safety.

Opponents are primarily concerned about the privacy issues that arise out of the public indication of one’s age group as a result of the decal. They claim that creating a tag for sixteen to twenty-one year olds makes youths particularly vulnerable to pedophiles and predators. One columnist analogizes the situation created by Kyleigh’s Law to that of murders and robberies arising from Florida’s rental car plate identification. It was challenged in the New Jersey Supreme Court for violating the federal government’s Drivers Privacy Protection Act because it released personal information and also constituted an unreasonable search and seizure. The court ruled in favor of the law but the plaintiffs plan to appeal its decision in federal court.

The law also raises some tactical issues. In situations where a car is shared by two or more individuals, decals remain on the car regardless of who is driving and can lead to non-GDL drivers being stopped by the police. Furthermore, teenagers who feel discriminated against or find the law pointless simply remove the decals from their cars once they obtain their license.


Conclusion

The ability to drive is a big step toward adulthood for many young people, but it can come with some risks. Legislatures in many states are working toward creating laws that protect young drivers. Some experimental laws, such as those enacted in New Jersey, may spread to other states, creating even more regulations on young drivers.


Resources

Primary 

New Jersey: Graduated Driver License Program

Missouri Department of Transportation: Safety Tips for Young Drivers

NJ Division of Criminal Justice: Kyleigh’s Law Interim Report

Additional

Science Daily: New Jersey’s Decal for Young Drivers Reduced Crashes, Study Suggest

CBS: Data: New Jersey’s Graduated License Laws Impacting Teen Driving Fatalities

GHSA: Graduated Driver Licensing Laws 

NewJersey.com: Senator Doubts Kyleigh’s Law Decals Prevented 1,600 Crashes

New Jersey.com: N.J. Senate Approves 6-Month Review of Kyleigh’s Law Decal Requirement

North Jersey: Kyleigh’s Law Decals Drive Controversy

AAA South Jersey: Kyleigh’s Law Update

Nicole Counts
Nicole Counts is a freelance writer, activist, and lover of books. She is graduate of Temple University with a BA in English and she lives in New York City. Contact Nicole at staff@LawStreetMedia.com.

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