Backed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a graduated license program would require a driver to go through three stages of licensing: learner's permit, intermediate license and full driver's license. The bill also proposes that the legal age to obtain a learner's permit be set at 16, as well as no unsupervised night driving until the driver is 18 years old. All states currently have some form of a graduated program in place, with the exception of North Dakota. This bill would help create harmony amongst the states with regards to age and term limits as some states are more lax than others.
For example, the state of Michigan allows drivers to begin the learner's permit process at just 14 years and eight months of age. Michigan drivers can then graduate to a full license by the age of 17. Is that too young? Perhaps, but it's hard to lump every 17 year old driver into one "you're-too-young-to-know-anything" driving group. Statistics do show that teenage drivers have higher crash rates compared to their older peers.
Perhaps a few more years in a better-thought-out licensing program can help bring that number down?
[Source: The Detroit News | Image: eBaum's World]
NHTSA backs legislation to boost graduated driver licenses
Detroit News Washington Bureau
Washington -- The Obama administration backs legislation that would prod states into requiring graduated driver licenses.
David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, today endorsed the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act to push states to require more training of young drivers before they get unrestricted licenses.
"The STAND-UP act is a great piece of legislation and we are very supportive," Strickland said at a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on auto safety legislation. "Graduated driver's licenses are the foundation for teaching young drivers how to be good citizens of the road."
The bill -- introduced in April 2009 -- would set tough minimum standards for graduated driver licenses for states. States that didn't comply within three years would lose some federal highway construction funds.
The bills would require three stages of licensing -- learner's permit, intermediate stage, and full licensure -- and sets age 16 as the earliest age for entry into the learner's permit process.
The bill would not allow young drivers to drive at night while unsupervised until they turned 18. It would require states to bar drivers from using communication devices and they couldn't have more than one non-family member in the car younger than 21 until they turned 18. Drivers couldn't get an unrestricted license until they turned 18.
All states but North Dakota have a three stage-program for young drivers.
Michigan's graduated driver program, passed in 1997, would not comply with the federal proposal.
New drivers in Michigan can begin the process to get a learner's permit at 14 years, eight months, and can get an unrestricted license at 17 if they meet certain conditions and get parent approval.
Michigan has no restrictions on young drivers using cell phones.
Strickland says research shows that states with graduated license programs have reported fewer crashes.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., one of the sponsors of the bill, said "it's about realizing that there's a much higher accident fatality rate with teenage drivers."
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade association representing Detroit's Big Three automakers and Toyota Motor Corp., also backs language "similar" to the STAND-UP act. "States should take special care in granting (driver licenses) to new drivers," said Rob Strassburger, vice president for vehicle safety and harmonization for the group.
Separately, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who heads the subcommittee that oversees NHTSA, says the agency needs more funds to accomplish its goals.
"NHTSA is in need of additional funding and resources -- to not only implement existing programs but implement new programs related to drunk driving and distracted driving," Pryor said.
But it is growing increasingly unlikely that Congress will take up any auto safety legislation this year. Congress may also opt to attach safety rules to a highway safety reauthorization -- another move that would likely take place next year.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said Congress needs to review the $500 million in grants NHTSA awards annually to states for safety programs and incentives.
The Governors Highway Safety Association wants Congress to approve grants to crack down on distracted driving -- as they do other behavior like drunken driving and failing to wear a seat belt.
House Transportation Committee chairman Rep. Jim Oberstar, R-Minn., has called for requiring ignition interlocks in vehicles for convicted drunken driving.
The administration has also backed a proposal that would offer incentives for states to crackdown on distracted driving.