Graduation time

Time ever flies and yet so many of us tarry not the least those serving us in the halls of government when there is important work to be done

Time ever flies and yet so many of us tarry — not the least those serving us in the halls of government — when there is important work to be done. No, I am not talking about health-care reform. I'd need all the pages in a good-sized book to properly expound upon that one. No, what I have in mind here is a piece of legislation before Congress that, to me anyway, is a no-brainer and what is more, impossible to conceive as controversial.

I first heard about this bill when summer was just upon us and, oddly enough, found out about it coming across an ad while flipping through a consumer magazine at the doctor's office. Those charged with promoting passage of H.R. 1895, a.k.a. The STANDUP (Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection) Act of 2009, didn't think to push it at this trucking magazine editor, but their print campaign reached me (neatly demonstrating as well the power of magazine advertising, but I digress) because this bill still needs all the promotion it can get.

H.R. 1895 was introduced on April 2 by Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-NY). The web site www.govtrack.us reports that the very next day it was referred to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit and, as of Sept. 18, it was still there.

I think this bill, though, is worthy of much consideration yet it clearly needs more supporters than even magazine ads can muster. According to the safety-interest group Saferoads4teens, which by all indications took the lead advocacy role for this bipartisan legislation, the bill “would establish minimum standards for state graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws, which are proven to significantly reduce death and injury among young beginning drivers and those who share the road with them.”

The ad that caught my eye was sponsored by Allstate Insurance, one of 23 medical, insurance, automotive and safety businesses and associations supporting the 110-group Saferoads4teens coalition in the drive to pass the STANDUP Act. Among those also stepping up to the plate are the Farmers Insurance Group of Companies, Liberty Mutual Group, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Safety Council, Nationwide Mutual Insurance, State Farm Insurance and USAA.

A letter sent months ago to all members of the House co-signed by the 24 organizations urged Congress to swiftly pass the STANDUP Act as “the House will soon consider the multiyear, multibillion-dollar federal surface transportation program.”

The key issue here is actually two-fold. To begin with, it makes perfect sense that everyone on the road would benefit by having teenaged drivers move through a graduated system to attain more and more driving privileges — such as driving at night and driving with others — as they gain real-world experience behind the wheel.

But the second element, as Saferoads4teens says, is also crucial: “GDL laws for novice teen drivers vary widely from state to state, which has resulted in an uneven patchwork of strong and weak state GDL laws with dangerous gaps that leave millions of teens in jeopardy and contribute to unnecessary deaths and injuries each year.”

The act would provide three years of incentive grants to states that adopt the minimum GDL provisions required in the bill, said Saferoads4teens. If after three years any state does not meet the federal standards, a portion of the state's federal-aid highway funds would be withheld until the necessary laws are enacted.

The group pointed out that a similar carrot-and-stick strategy was deployed when President Reagan signed the National Minimum 21 Drinking Age Act and when President Clinton approved the 0.08% legal blood alcohol concentration law.

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