A bill introduced by federal lawmakers would set national licensing standards for teenage drivers, including restrictions on cell phone use.
Supporters say their proposal would save lives and improve roadway safety. Auto accidents are the No. 1 cause of death among American teens. Because teens are considered a high risk behind the wheel, auto insurance for young drivers can bump up a family's annual premiums by 50 percent to 100 percent.
Among the key backers of the legislation are U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; and U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y.
"As a parent and as a lawmaker, I want to make sure we take every reasonable safety precaution to ensure that our teen drivers are safe and well-prepared for the serious responsibility that comes with getting a license," Gillibrand says in a statement. "This legislation will give young drivers better education and more experience before they get out on the roads … .”
In 2009, about 3,000 teens in the United States ages 15 to 19 were killed in auto accidents, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sixteen-year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age, including older teens, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The proposed Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection (STAND UP) Act would call on states to adopt minimum requirements for graduated driver's license programs.
Supporters of the bill say graduated driver's licenses are "a proven effective method" for reducing the risk of crashes among new drivers by:
• Introducing teens to the driving experience gradually.
• Phasing in full driving privileges over time in low-risk settings.
• Teaching teens how to eliminate distractions that cause accidents.
Although every state has some sort of graduated driver's license system, the requirements vary widely and are "very weak" in some states, backers of the STAND UP Act say. For instance, six states allow learner’s permits to be issued to drivers as young as 14, three states do not regulate nighttime driving for teens and one state (South Dakota) lets a 16-year-old obtain an unrestricted license.
In 2010, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina and South Dakota as having the worst programs for licensing of young drivers.
Among other things, the STAND UP Act would:
• Establish a three-stage licensing process: learner’s permit, intermediate and unrestricted.
• Prohibit nighttime driving during the intermediate stage.
• Require that learner’s permits be issued age 16 and unrestricted licenses be issued at age 18.
• Prohibit non-emergency use of cell phones and other communication devices during the learner’s permit and intermediate stages.
“The death and injury toll of novice teen drivers in every community, large and small, across the country is unacceptable. This legislation will help reduce that number,” says Melissa Shelk, vice president for federal affairs at the American Insurance Association.
The bill would give states three years to adopt the national standards. If a state failed to comply after that, it would lose 3 percent of its federal highway funding in the first year, 5 percent in the second year and 10 percent in the third year.
The legislation would exempt most teens who work on family farms.
The STAND UP Act would authorize $25 million in grants each year for three years to help states put the new standards in place.