Originally created 02/28/05

Tighten teen driving laws



Who says teenagers aren't interested in what goes on in the state legislature? When something affects their lives, they're just as concerned as any other group with a special interest in certain legislation.

What has many Georgia teens' attention are a host of bills that would change driving rules for them.

One that has a good chance of passing is H.B. 256, sponsored by state Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs. The bill is in response to studies showing that risks for wrecks increase when 16- and 17-year-olds have three or more passengers in their car.

HB 256 would ban teen drivers from having more than one passenger in their car who is under the age of 21. Under current Georgia law, that ban is in effect for only the first six months after the teen driver is licensed.

Wilkinson, who is also pushing several other teen driving bills, says the package of driving restrictions on the young that passed in 2002 is having a positive impact, but statistics show there are still too many teen deaths and accidents. The 2002 package included, among other things, a late-night curfew, curbs on learner's permits, and a system of graduated license privileges between ages 16 and 18.

Even so, in Georgia the number of teen driving deaths a year is running at about 150 - still too high, says Dr. John O'Shea, head of safety legislation for the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He's working with Wilkinson and others on ramping up teen safety laws.

Some other measures in the hopper that would impact on young drivers would empower parents to have their kids' license lifted; prohibit teens from using cell phones while driving; and minors caught drinking illegally, even if they're nowhere near a car, would automatically have their driver's license suspended.

Many teens are unhappy that lawmakers keep tampering with the license rules. Most young people, they point out, do drive safely, and frequent changes in the law serve only to confuse them - it's hard to keep up with all the changes.

That may be true, but many of the changes are being urged by teens' parents who are worried about the death-and-accident counts. Until those statistics come down significantly, parents will continue to be nervous whenever their teen takes to the road.

Young people need to realize what their parents realize - that it's far better to keep track of changing driving laws than dying teens.