Teenagers here in California eagerly await their 16th birthday, that all-important landmark that means they can now drive a car. In South Dakota, the situation is much different, since teens earn their learner’s permit at the age of 14. If a new teen driver safety law imposing a national driving age passes through Congress, that could all change. A set of lawmakers have reintroduced the law that would impose the 16-year permit – and a handful of other safety measures – on teens nationwide. Proponents say it will reduce fatalities from car accidents, the number one killer of teenagers. Critics say it violates a state’s right to make its own laws.
Critics say that states like South Dakota have an early driver age because their roads aren’t as populated as a place like New Jersey, which has the country’s most strict driving laws (teens can’t drive until 17). But when it comes to driver safety, imposing a federal blanket law to reduce deaths is nothing new. Congress used the same tactic to impose 21 as the national drinking age, and the 0.08 percent maximum blood alcohol level. States rights aside, when it comes to safety experts there is little doubt that the federal teen driving law will reduce car accident fatalities.
“To ensure the safety of our teen drivers, we need higher standards for our teen licenses,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York and one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “When we give our children more time to learn the rules of the road, they will be better, safer drivers, and most importantly, we will save lives.” With 3,400 teens killed each year in vehicle accidents, we have a long way to go, and the sponsors of the bill hope it can help.
In addition to raising the national minimum driving age to 16, the proposed law would prohibit driving after dark until reception of an unrestricted license at the age of 18, and forbid any use of a cell phone while behind the wheel. Although most agree that this law would save teen laws, it still must clear the obstacle of critics who say it will violate existing state driving laws. With today’s dicey political climate, it’s always difficult to tell what will happen, but we will keep you posted.
Photo credit: beardenb