Automobiles

Driving Adolescents Crazy

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The much-ballyhooed soccer moms may have even less time to deal with getting to work, buying groceries, and picking up their kids before the day care center closes. A bill cruising toward passage in California would cut off one source of relief for many stressed-out parents: unrestricted driving privileges for their 16- and 17-year-old children.

Before getting a license, drivers younger than 18 would have to hold a learner's permit for six months and have a parent certify that the teens had completed 50 hours of "supervised driving practice" with an adult. After minors get their licenses, they won't be allowed to carry any passengers younger than 20 for six months–unless an adult over 25 is in the car . (No longer could older children ferry their younger siblings to the mall or basketball practice.) And for the first year after they get their licenses, 16- and 17-year-olds will be barred from driving between midnight and 5 a.m. without an adult present. Breaking the law could result in community service. The law includes exemptions for school activities, work, and family and medical emergencies.

The bill is a part of a growing trend to restrict teen driving. The restrictions on passengers would make the California bill the nation's toughest on teens, but eight states have nighttime driving restrictions and 44 states have lower rates of acceptable blood alcohol concentrations for drivers under 21, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Another bill, introduced in the California Assembly, would bar licenses for students who miss 15 days of school.

Advocates of the new laws stress the dangers young drivers face. IIHS statistics show that teenage drivers, who represent 10 percent of the population, account for 14 percent of highway deaths.

But older people are death risks as well: Thirteen percent of the population is 65 years or older, and that group accounts for 17 percent of highway fatalities. So why aren't legislators trying to limit retirees' driving privileges? Grandma can vote. Junior can't.

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