Stricter Laws on Teenage Driving

The New York Times reported on August 13 that states are increasingly legislating away a teenager’s carefree cruise in a car full of friends, deemed as a rite of passage by resonating popular culture. States are in fact passing laws that restrict when, how, and with whom teenagers can get behind the wheel. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia now prohibit teenagers from driving with another teenager, and all but seven states forbid them from driving with more than one. In South Carolina, teenagers cannot drive after 6pm in winter (8pm in summer), and in Idaho, they are banned from sundown to sunup.

In New Jersey, lawmakers are pushing further, requiring teenage drivers to attach a red decal to their license plates to make it easier for the police to enforce a curfew and passenger restrictions, and proposing a law to require parents to complete a driver education course. The laws have raised complaints that the state is outsourcing parenting to the police— not to mention that passenger limits effectively outlaw the teenage double date. But safety campaigners point to studies showing that the laws have significantly reduced traffic deaths. Car crashes remain the leading cause of death for teenagers, who have a crash rate four times higher than that of older drivers. And two-thirds of those deaths happen in a car driven by another teenager. Studies have shown that teenagers tend to overrate their driving skills and underrate risks on the road, and have more trouble multitasking— talking to friends, listening to the radio, and texting are particularly hazardous.

The push to restrict teenage drivers dates to the mid-1990s and now all states have graduated driver’s licensing. Most states are revisiting these laws to make them even tougher; 29 have done so since 2009, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Mostly, they are further restricting the number of passengers or tightening curfews. Efforts have been particularly aggressive in the bumper-to-bumper Northeast. Bills requiring a decal like New Jersey’s are pending in New York and Rhode Island. At the federal level, the highway bill passed this summer set up incentives for states to tighten restrictions on teenage drivers.

“We don’t want to say that teens are a menace to us all, but the reality is, when teen drivers crash, it’s people in other cars or teen passengers who end up dying,” said Justin McNaull, director of state relations for AAA, which endorses passenger limits to age 21 or even 25. If you or a member of your family has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact us for a free appraisal.

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