One California state legislator wants to expand the state's apparent desire to treat grown adults like teens by restricting their driving rights.
California last year passed legislation increasing the legal age for residents to purchase cigarettes to 21. Now Democratic Assemblyman Jim Frazier of Oakley has introduced legislation to treat adult drivers like they're still teenagers until they reach 21.
Frazier has introduced AB 63, which expands California's provisional driver's licensing program to all drivers under 21. What does that mean? We'll let Frazier's bill speak for itself:
Existing law, the Brady-Jared Teen Driver Safety Act of 1997, establishes a provisional licensing program and generally requires that a driver's license issued to a person at least 16 years of age but under 18 years of age be issued pursuant to that provisional licensing program. During the first 12 months after issuance of a provisional license, existing law prohibits the licensee from driving between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. and transporting passengers who are under 20 years of age, unless he or she is accompanied and supervised by a licensed driver, as specified, or a licensed or certified driving instructor. Existing law provides limited exceptions to these restrictions under which a licensee is authorized to drive under specified circumstances, including a school or school-authorized activity or an employment necessity, and requires the licensee to keep certain supporting documentation in his or her possession. A violation of these provisions is punishable as an infraction.
This bill would expand the scope of the provisional licensing program by extending the applicable age range for the program to 16 to under 21 years of age. By expanding the scope of the provisional licensing program, the violation of which constitutes an infraction, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program. The bill would authorize a licensee who is 18, 19, or 20 years of age to keep in his or her possession a copy of his or her class schedule or work schedule as documentation to satisfy the exceptions for a school or school-authorized activity and employment necessity, respectively, and would provide that a signed statement by a parent or legal guardian is not required if reasonable transportation facilities are inadequate and the operation of a vehicle by a licensee who is 18, 19, or 20 years of age is necessary to transport the licensee or the licensee's immediate family member. The bill would make other technical and conforming changes. The bill would also include specified findings and declarations.
The law would put a statewide curfew in place for adult drivers between the ages of 18 to 21 for one year, just like the state has for teens. Adults who fit in this category will have to carry around paperwork to show government officials (police officers) that they have the authority to be driving "after hours" for reasons that the state permits.
It's a grotesque violation of the right for adults to travel freely, all for the name of public safety, of course. Frazier cites all sorts of demographic data about young people behind the wheel. From the East Bay Times:
Frazier cited research from the Governors Highway Safety Association that found that over the last 10 years improvement in fatal crash rates were better among drivers between the ages of 15 and 17 than among their 18- to 20-year-old counterparts. Additionally, the GHSA found that older teens were twice as likely to be involved in a fatal crash between midnight and 6 a.m. and attributed this to provisional licensing programs.
"Some folks say it is very restrictive to teens and folks who don't have experience driving," Frazier said. "The most restrictive part is the part where they end up in a casket."
It might not surprise readers to learn that Frazier tragically lost a daughter in a car crash in 2000. Whenever we see a proposal that restricts the liberty of citizens with stabs at increasing public safety, we usually find a tragedy at the heart of it.
Frazier is opportunistically here using a recent spike in fatal crashes (due to more people driving more miles than previous years) to justify a new law treating adults like kids. But in reality, driving has become safer than ever. Look at this graph of motor vehicle deaths per 100,000 population over decades:
Even if it were worth considering severely limiting the rights of adults to travel freely, the larger statistics don't support it.
Under normal circumstances, I'd rate the chances of this legislation getting anywhere as fairly low. But given that we're talking about California here and the success of nanny state arguments in either curtailing private behavior or increasing regulatory burdens, it's unwise to dismiss its prospects.
So this afternoon (at noon Pacific time), I'll be a guest on "Air Talk" on KPCC (89.3), Los Angeles' NPR affiliate, to discuss this bill. Just to bulletpoint some things I'll be likely to point out:
- If we're using demographic data to restrict the rights of adults, why stop with such a limited law? Just think of how many lives could be saved if everybody were forbidden to drive from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. unless it were for certain government-approved purposes like work or school.
- The logic of using public safety fears to violate citizens' rights led us to places like stop-and-frisk. Couldn't these kinds of arguments lead to a place where other demographic groups have their rights to travel restricted on the basis of being part of a risk category?
- The courts have ruled that Americans, in general, have a right to travel. Yes there's a heavy amount of regulation, but due process procedures are largely required in order to take that right away. In fact, the lack of due process played a major role in federal courts ruling that the way the Department of Homeland Security was handling no-fly lists was unconstitutional. The government can't simply take away an adult's right to travel without a coherent due process program. Even in the cases of drunken drivers, the government has to prove a crime before taking away somebody's right to drive.
Tune in to KPCC at noon to listen to me make the case. Read the law here.