Originally created 09/25/96

Hearings held on raising driving age

ATLANTA - Young people turning 16 in the next several years might have to wait a little longer to enjoy the privilege of driving independently if some traffic safety experts get their way.

The state Senate Young Drivers Study Committee held the first in a statewide series of public hearings Tuesday to consider tougher license testing procedures and education requirements.

"It takes more hours to get a hunting license than a license to drive," said committee chairman Sen. Jack Hill, D-Reidsville.

Current testing methods aren't adequate, said Sid Miles, Department of Public Safety commissioner, who recommended a "graduated" license system with restricted privileges for younger teens.

Under that proposal, teen-agers would get a learner's permit at age 15, a daytime license at age 16 and with a good record, full driving privileges at age 17.

The difference in judgment between a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old is vast, said Bob Wilson, National Safety Council Southeast regional director.

"It makes a significant difference in maturity," Mr. Wilson told the Senate panel.

Other witnesses told senators that drivers' education should be required and paid for by the state. The state took driver training money out of school budgets in 1985, said Keith Hendricks, who teaches driving safety in the DeKalb County school system.

The money was made available again to public schools in 1993 but was not given a mandatory earmark for drivers' education, Mr. Wilson said. The estimated cost of drivers' education per student is $340, he said.

"That's cheaper than a funeral," said state Sen. Mike Crotts, R-Conyers, the committee vice chairman.

Studies show that young drivers have four times as many accidents as experienced drivers, Lt. Gov. Pierre Howard told the panel.

Committee members formed the study group after floating trial legislation last year to see if there was any support for stricter driver education and testing.

Mr. Hill and Mr. Crotts said they aren't committed to any one idea, but hope to have legislation ready by January.

"We're off to a good start but we're not close to saying this is what we should do," Mr. Hill said.


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