(Washington, DC --Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday forcing states to meet a national standard for teens’ drivers licenses or take a hit on their federal highway funding.
The bill pushes graduated drivers license programs, or GDL’s, which phase in driving privileges for teens in the hopes of taking some of the danger out of getting behind the wheel.
All 50 states already have some form of phased-in driving for teens, but standards vary widely. Six states allow permits for 14-year olds, while South Dakota has no restricts at all for 16-year-old drivers.
Safety groups and insurance companies have long backed GDL programs, as a way to improve teen driving safety and also to lock in one set of nationwide rules.
Car crashes remain the number-one cause of death for US teens, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Crashes killed more than 40,000 teens over the last five years.
“This is a national problem that requires a national solution,” said Rep. Tim Bishop (R-NY).
Teens are notoriously bad risk takers, but advocates have become increasingly alarmed by the rise of cell phones and other electronic devices. Distracted driving campaigns have zeroed in on adolescents and their texting.
The bill would force states to take on three-stage licensing schemes with unrestricted driving privileges delayed until age 18. The process involves learners permits with passenger restrictions and cell phone bans. It would also let the federal government set standards withholding full licenses from kids caught driving recklessly, with DUIs or other violations.
Teens in the intermediate license phase would face restrictions on night driving and on the number of car passengers.
States would have three years to put in minimum requirements.
“If they don’t, they would face penalties and reductions in funding,” said Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand, D-NY.
The bill authorizes $25 million to help states put new laws in place. Lawmakers said they intend to attach the bill to surface transportation legislation expected to move in Congress later this year.