When I turned 16 years and a month in 1987, near as I can remember, I was eligible to get a driver’s license with no restrictions. Over the past two decades, a variety of limitations have been imposed on teen drivers. While I can’t say that these modifications are a bad thing — limiting the ability to haul around other teens with no supervision, for example — I think they are one of those things that are relatively easy politically. Teens don’t vote, driving is inherently dangerous, and parents are always concerned about the well-being of their children. So, there is a political element involved. If these decisions about driving were being made on a purely rational basis, one would expect to see more restrictions proposed for drivers who are, say, over 80 where age would possibly put you more at risk for slower reaction times.
But, teens are a more tempting political target since they can’t fight back (and their parents are probably likely to appreciate the legislation), so they get the love. Under a bill that will be introduced in the Senate, teen drivers would be banned from using cellular telephones and other communication devices and would have to wait six months to a year longer to get a license.
Under the legislation, teens who took driver’s education classes would have to wait until they are 16 years and 6 months before obtaining their licenses. Teens who do not take classes would have to wait until they are 17 to obtain licenses.
The bill would also require teens to drive with placards in their cars for 180 days indicating they are newly licensed and would prohibit them from carrying any passengers except siblings during that time, unless they were accompanied by a licensed driver at least 25 years old.
The bill also mandates 50 hours of supervised driving before a teen can obtain a driver’s license. But the chairman of the study committee, Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, acknowledged that the bill doesn’t direct drivers to keep a log or prove to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles that they have completed the requirement.
Just another sneaky thing to keep in mind is to look at whether people who would profit from providing driver’s education classes are pushing this legislation.
Again, not saying that any of these measures are bad per se, just that we should skeptically approach any legislation that targets politically weak groups and wonder whether the legislation would be pursued if that group had political clout.
Update The Chronicle Tribune in Grant County suggests that the proposed legislation will place an additional burden on parents since the restrictions and training requirements are increasing as the access to driver’s education classes is dwindling.
These might be good ideas. But we believe unless there is ample access to driver training courses in Indiana, we will move backward in regard to highway safety, and the dangers to our children and others will increase.
In trying to cut back on teen fatalities, the General Assembly might do better to ensure driver education funding is available for our schools in ways that will make it reasonably available to all students.