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Graduating teen drivers

July 14, 2009
It's not every day I find out about a potentially exciting piece of safety legislation by coming across an ad while flipping through a consumer magazine at the doctor's office. The folks charged with promoting passage of the federal STANDUP (Safe ...

It's not every day I find out about a potentially exciting piece of safety legislation by coming across an ad while flipping through a consumer magazine at the doctor's office.

The folks charged with promoting passage of the federal STANDUP (Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection) Act of 2009 didn't think (yet anyway) to push it directly at this trucking magazine editor, but thankfully their print campaign reached me (neatly demonstrating as well the power of magazine advertising, but I digress) because this bill needs all the promotion it can get so it will be passed with all due haste.

According to the safety-interest group Saferoads4teens, which by all indications is taking the lead advocacy role for this bipartisan legilsation, 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 act is sponsored by U.S. Representatives Tim Bishop (D-NY), Michael Castle (R-DE), Chris Van Hollen, Jr. (D-MD), and James Moran (D-VA).

The ad that caught my eye was sponsored by Allstate Insurance, one of 23 medical, insurance, automotive and safety business 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 (MADD), the National Safety Council, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, State Farm Insurance and USAA.

A letter sent recently to all Members of the House co-signed by the 24 organizations urges Congress to swiftly pass the STANDUP Act as "the House will soon consider the multi-year, multi-billion-dollar federal surface transportation program." The senders said the letter emphasizes “the unacceptable death and injury toll of novice teen drivers as well as all of us who share the road with them” and stressed the need to “address this problem through prevention -- the most effective public health strategy to save lives, prevent injuries and reduce the medical and social costs of teen crashes.”

The key issue is 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 driviung at night and driving with others-- as they gain real-world experience behind the wheel. But the second element, as Saferoads4teens points out, 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."

It's hard to argue against the safety benefits of graduated driver's licenses for teenagers.

According to Saferoads4teens, the STANDUP Act's provisions are supported by extensive data and research showing the effectiveness of GDL laws in saving teen lives. "GDL laws are a proven method of preventing teen driving deaths and injuries and have been shown to achieve as much as a 40% drop in teen deaths and injuries," stated the group.

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 .08 percent legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) law. "Each time Congress has used this type of penalty, every state has enacted the law within the time frame allowed and no state lost any federal funds," noted Saferoads4teens. "As a result, both laws have saved thousands of lives."

A copy of the coalition letter to Congress and more information about the STANDUP Act and teen driver safety can be found at www.saferoads4teens.org.

I hope fleet owners and other stakeholders in trucking will support this potentially life-saving measure. To be sure, I applaud the insurance firms and other organizations that have already signaled their strong support.

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