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New Laws Enacted to Lessen Teen Driving Deaths

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

New Laws Enacted to Lessen Teen Driving Deaths

Adam Hepburn
July 13, 2005

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Fatal car crashes involving teenagers are a problem on American roads and highways. Motor vehicle accidents are now the leading cause of death for Americans aged 16 to 20. One East Coast state, Maryland, recently passed a series of laws aimed at preventing such traffic deaths.

Last fall, there was a series of fatal car crashes involving teenagers in and around Washington, D.C. It is a national problem.

Ellen Engleman Conners is the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is in charge of highway safety. "Forty percent of teenage deaths are in highway accidents -- more so, it's the leading cause of death for teenagers. More than drugs, or suicide or anything."

The state of Maryland, which is next to Washington, D.C., recently passed new restrictions on teenage driving. Maryland State Delegate William Bronrott says teenage drivers don't realize the danger they are in. "It is the sense of invincibility and inexperience and inattention combined with driver distraction that is killing our kids".

To help make roads safer, Maryland in effect is stretching out the time required to get a full license. It now requires that new drivers obtain a learner's permit followed by a provisional license for 18 months and finally a full driver's license.

The restrictions do not stop there. Other teenage passengers will not be allowed in the car during the provisional period, as that is said to double the chances of getting into an accident. And there are other restrictions during the provisional period.

According to Ms. Engleman Conners, "You should have a driver who is over 21 in the car with you; you're not going to have cell phone usage, for instance. It's a zero alcohol tolerance level by the way and you basically have a coach with you in the car."

Previously, new drivers had no such special restrictions on cell phone usage and teenage passengers. Although lawmakers and safety professionals worry about how teens may react to the new restrictions, they are confident that the new laws are important.

"I suppose if I was 16-years-old I would have probably fought against them,” says Delegate Bronrott. “Because who wants to be told what to do when you're 16, especially when it comes to your most precious possession, your driver's license. But this is clearly in the best interest of our most at-risk population, our teens."

Other states have enacted similar restrictions. The point of it all is to give teenagers more experience behind the wheel with fewer distractions -- until they are more mature and more aware of the risks of driving.

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