A push to curb teenagers’ deadly driving was launched this week with the introduction of bills in the Arizona Legislature to limit when they can be on the road and the beginning of a national ad campaign urging teens to speak up when their friends are driving recklessly.
A bill to restrict teens from driving after midnight or with a carload of kids was introduced in the Senate with 18 co-sponsors, both Republicans and Democrats. A nearly identical proposal sponsored by nine other lawmakers was introduced in the House.
Both measures would ban new drivers younger than 18 from being on the road from midnight to 5 a.m. and limit the number of other teens they can carry in the car at any time. The restrictions in both bills apply only during the first six months after teens obtain their driver’s licenses. They also have similar exemptions, such as allowing newly licensed teens to drive after midnight if they are accompanied by a parent.
Similar legislation has failed repeatedly in the past. But Sen. Barbara Leff, R-Paradise Valley, the prime sponsor of the Senate bill, said there is now a broad recognition among lawmakers of the risks new drivers face and the dangers they pose.
“I don’t see anything in there that you could argue about unless you just don’t think that government should have any say in it,” Leff said. “But the government makes laws on driving, so making laws that are slightly more restrictive for a brand-new, young driver is not out of the realm of gov- ernment’s responsibility.”
A three-part series published by the Tribune in May showed that car crashes account for nearly half of all deaths among youths ages 15 through 17.
In the last 10 years, more than 700 people were killed in car crashes involving at least one driver younger than 18 in the state.
Arizona is one of five states that do not have restrictions on when newly licensed teens can drive, or the number of passengers they can carry, through what are known as graduated driver’s licensing laws.
Rep. Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, has historically opposed bills that put new restrictions on drivers.
But he signed on to Leff’s proposal because of the magnitude of the problem and concerns about drug use among teens, he said. The restrictions are reasonable and there are adequate exemptions allowing kids to drive to jobs or school activities, Rios said.
“It’s not Democrat or Republican. It’s not an urban versus rural,” Rios said. “It’s an issue that people have identified in their minds as real and something that needs to be addressed without taking that privilege completely away from teenagers.”
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, who is the chairman of the House Transportation Committee and has blocked graduated licensing bills in the past, did not return phone calls.
On Thursday, a nationwide public service ad campaign was launched by the Ad Council encouraging teen passengers to say something when friends are driving recklessly.
Dubbed “UR the Spokesperson,” the television and radio spots are offered to local stations to play as they see fit, said Peggy Conlon, president and CEO of the Ad Council.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, who along with other state attorneys general are helping pitch the ad campaign, said it is an effective means of getting teens to exert peer pressure to make their friends safer drivers.
That is particularly important in states, such as Arizona, that do not have effective limits on new teen drivers, said Goddard, adding he supports the proposed legislation.
“As one of only five states that don’t have graduated licenses, I think that puts the bead on us to defend why not,” Goddard said. “Frankly, I can’t find a good reason.”