Arizona is poised to finally impose some additional driving restrictions on young motorists that other states already have proven will save the lives of our children and increase safety for the rest of us on the road as well.
The state Legislature has sent Gov. Janet Napolitano a bill to impose some new rules on 16- and 17-year-old drivers, Capitol Media Services reported Wednesday. If Napolitano approves, young drivers who have had their state license for less than six months will have an auto curfew of midnight to 5 a.m. and they would be allowed only one passenger under 18 who is not a brother or sister. Exceptions to the curfew would include driving to and from work, a school activity or a religious function.
HB2033 also increases the length of time young drivers must have a learner’s permit, and how much practice time they must get behind the wheel with a licensed adult in the car before they can apply for a driver’s license.
Legislative passage comes after years of frustration for motor safety experts and parents whose children were killed or seriously injured because a teenager failed to drive safely. A shift in perceptions among some key lawmakers can be attributed to their persistent lobbying for change, and also to the work of Tribune investigative reporter Mark Flatten, whose series from a year ago called “Dying to Drive” was recently named the 2006 Story of the Year by the Associated Press-Managing Editors of Arizona.
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. Flatten provided compelling evidence that fewer teen drivers are involved in accidents when they are forced to spend more time practicing with an adult beside them, when they aren’t allowed to drive during those nighttime hours when they are most likely to be tired, and when distractions are reduced by having fewer friends and peers riding around with them.
It’s not just that teen drivers generally have less experience than adults. Science is demonstrating that the brains of teenagers are still developing, so they are less likely to judge risks correctly or to react appropriately at the right time.
The tortuous legislative process of improving Arizona’s graduated driver’s license means HB2033 isn’t a perfect measure. Six months might not be a long enough for the curfew and passenger restrictions. Other states have included more hours in the nightly curfew, and many are banning the use of cell phones by teen drivers.
And violations of Arizona’s new restrictions would be treated as a secondary offense that, like the mandatory seat belt law, could be enforced only if the police officer had some other reason to pull a driver over. But even this approach, combined with public education, can be meaningful as the use of seat belts has steadily increased and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety claims about 95 percent of all motorists are now buckling up.
If we can get similar results for teen safety behind the wheel over the next decade, we will have a lot fewer of our kids dying from their driving.