I saw on the news yesterday that congress is considering legislation that will restrict youth’s ability to drive:

U.S. Senator Chris Dodd and U.S. Representatives Tim Bishop and Michael Castle were chief sponsors of the bill which will push states to adopt the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program. The importance of the bill was emphasized with the display of two vehicles that had been totalled in a car crash where teenagers were killed.

The main focus of this campaign and proposed federal act is to save the lives of our teenagers. Auto accident-related death is the number one killer of young people between the ages of 15 and 20. On average, 10 teenagers are killed in car crashes, either as drivers or passengers, each and every day in the U.S.

I don’t oppose most of the law on principle. Having a graduated system where more and more rights are accumulated over time would indeed save lives. While it’s true that a portion of the teenage driver accidents is a result of inexperience which would be a problem whether you’re driving for the first time at 16 or 46, there’s no question that innate maturity also plays a role. To take the items one by one:

A 3-stage licensing process (learner’s permit and intermediate stage before unrestricted driver’s license)

This strikes me as reasonable. Having a system where increased privileges are earned could be a benefit to more than just driving.

A prohibition on unsupervised nighttime driving during the learner’s permit and intermediate stages

What about a sixteen or seventeen year old with a job? What if they’re coming home after football practice or some other extra-curricular activity? There are a lot of valid reasons for kids to be driving at night. Also, what if you’re 17 and in college? Curfews have exemptions for these sorts of things. Does this law?

A passenger restriction during the learner’s permit and intermediate stage (no more than 1 non-familial passenger under the age of 21 unless a licensed driver over 21 years of age is in the vehicle);

This could be an inconvenience for parents who have their kids carpool while driving to school or at home from practice. Clancy wants to apply this rule to our future kids whether it’s the law or not. I am less convinced. The safety stats are there, of course, but there is more to life than safety (my views are this are subject to change when I am actually responsible for taking care of a kid). In fact, a law would settle this disagreement with us and probably for the better. Our kids wouldn’t be at a social disadvantage if it were the law rather than us clipping their wings. Our kids wouldn’t lose out because some other parents let their kids do what we won’t let ours.

A prohibition on non-emergency use of cell phones and other communication devices, including text messaging, during the learner’s permit and intermediate stages;

No problem with these laws in theory, but they don’t work where they’ve already been tried with adults.

Age 16 for issuance of learner’s permit and full licensure at age 18;

See above for the problem with these age limitations. Also, there’s something to be said for allowing kids more freedom while their parents are able to look after them rather than when they’ve already left for college and already dealing with the potential of too much new freedom at once. But those are relatively thin objections. Still concerned about extra-curricular activities, jobs, and other reasons the kids might be out late, though.

Any other requirement adopted by the Secretary of Transportation, including learner’s permit holding period at least 6 months; intermediate stage at least 6 months; at least 30 hours behind-the-wheel, supervised driving by licensed driver 21 years of age or older; automatic delay of full licensure if permit holder commits an offense, such as DWI, misrepresentation of true age, reckless driving, unbelted driving, speeding, or other violations as determined by the Secretary.

No arguments here.

The other problem I have with this generally is that I don’t like this being determined on the federal level. Obviously, the ship has sailed on the federal government’s right to do this. But different states have different needs and different priorities and I don’t see anything wrong with that. This doesn’t strike me as the sort of thing that is inherently an interstate problem. I would likely be more supportive of this law in the state legislature than in congress itself.

Category: Road, Statehouse

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8 Responses to The STANDUP Federal Act

  1. Mike Hunt says:

    There are a lot of valid reasons for kids to be driving at night.

    You are reading this too literally. They don’t mean that you can’t drive after sunset. In NJ, the restriction only applies between 11p and 5a.

  2. Peter says:

    Bad law. I’m almost embarrassed that Tim Bishop is my Congressman.

  3. trumwill says:

    Mike, that can still be problematic if you have a job. Or if you’re in college and not quite 18 yet. Do kids in New Jersey not work late?

    Peter, what’s you’re specific objection?

  4. trumwill says:

    Kind of funny, but two (Dodd and Castle) of the three (Bishop being the third) congressmen behind this bill are about to lose their jobs.

  5. Mike Hunt says:

    New Jersey grants a waiver if the minor is driving for work purposes or religious purposes.

    As for the 17-year-old college student, they are a rare breed here, since most districts use a September 30 cut-off now. However, if you a minor college student, the rules still apply to you. There is no specific provision for driving to and from school. Will a judge stretch the work provision to include school? It hasn’t come up yet.

  6. David Alexander says:

    Do kids in New Jersey not work late?

    I’m jokingly tempted to say no as a few anecdotal news stories have hinted that employers, especially in the NYC Metro area increasing look for immigrants to fill the jobs that teenagers once performed.

    The other problem I have with this generally is that I don’t like this being determined on the federal level.

    That’s admittedly one of the things that bugs me about a federal system where the states are free to implement their own rules and regulations which increasingly makes things far more complicated than necessary. Of course, the downside is that the freedom state governments have to implement stronger restrictions based on a conservative or liberal philosophy is cherished political right, especially if the federal laws or regulations are deemed insufficient.

  7. trumwill says:

    Mike, it seems really odd to me that there are no provisions for school. Even with high school there were were people coming and going at awfully odd hours. I think after 11 was pretty rare, but before 5 wasn’t. I didn’t even participate in extra-curriculars and sometimes I headed to school before 5 so that I could get a parking space.

  8. trumwill says:

    David, since different states have different needs, I think having different laws makes a good deal of sense.

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