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Congress considers raising unrestricted driving age to 18

One of America's quintessential teenage romances -- driving at age 16 -- is under congressional scrutiny.

In May, U.S. senators proposed new driver's license standards that would raise the minimum unrestricted driving age to 18 nationwide in effort to reduce teenage traffic deaths. The proposal mirrors a U.S. House bill filed last year.

Driver's license requirements are now handled by states.

In most states, teens 16 or older now can drive unsupervised until 10 p.m. if they've had six citation-free months with a learner's permit and pass a driver's license exam. If the driver avoids citations for another six months, they can begin driving with no restrictions.

The three-phase process is called graduated driver's licensing. Every state but North Dakota uses some form of it, some stricter than others.

The idea behind the federal legislation is to toughen and streamline such laws into a national standard.
"This bill will make our roads safer and save lives," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said after filing the Senate's version of the bill.

In 2008, 2,684 drivers age 16 to 20 died in traffic accidents nationwide according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.

Analysis of the data by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows the riskiest driving age is 16, when drivers crash more often per mile driven than any other age.

The proposed congressional legislation is under review in House and Senate committees. As they are now written, the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection acts would:
-- Require a three-stage licensing process -- learner's permit, to intermediate, to full licensing.
-- Allow a learner's permit to be issued at age 16 and full licenses at age 18.
-- Prohibit driving at night, using cell phones and having more than one non-family member younger than 21 as a passenger during learner's permit and intermediate stages.

If states don't follow the requirements, they would risk losing federal highway money, according to the measures.

The requirements are based on some of the toughest state graduated driver's licensing, which Klobuchar and other supporters say helps reduce teen traffic deaths.

The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. The House bill is sponsored by Reps. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., Michael Castle, R-Del., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

Opponents say the idea wouldn't make drivers any more prepared at age 18 than they would be at age 16. Further, they say, the laws would strip states' rights and discriminate against teenagers.

"What this does is try to create a one-size fits all standard," said Alex Koroknay-Palicz, executive director of the National Youth Rights Association, a mostly teen-run organization that advocates for youth rights.

That doesn't work because driving in Oklahoma is drastically different than driving in New Jersey or Connecticut, he said.

"Instead of getting people to drive more safely, it just pushes things back," he said.

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Posted in: News by NewsBot on June 7, 2010 @ 6:19 PM

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