OUR OPINION: North Dakota should welcome graduated licensingThe new restricted driver licenses for teens have reduced the death rate significantly in other states. And the same thing is likely to happen here.
By: Tom Dennis for the Herald, Grand Forks Herald
The news on driving-while-texting-or-calling is mixed, as mentioned before in this space.
On the one hand, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a nationwide ban on the practices. On the other hand, such bans have not lowered the accident rate in the states that have tried them, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports.
But motorists shouldn’t scoff at traffic safety rules just because cell-phone bans haven’t worked. Just this week, North Dakota is changing its rules in a way that’s almost sure to save lives.
The new restricted driver licenses for teens have reduced the death rate significantly in other states. And the same thing is likely to happen here.
Here’s the most recent evidence, which was reported as recently as last month:
“An estimated 2,000 teen lives and $13.6 billion could be saved each year if all states had comprehensive graduated driver licensing programs, according to a new report from Allstate and the National Safety Council,” ConsumersReports.org reported.
“Currently, GDL programs are implemented in all 50 states, but their strength varies. … The study found that states with strong GDL programs had 38 percent fewer fatal crashes with young drivers compared with states that had just one GDL element resulting in just 4 percent fewer crash deaths.”
North Dakota’s new law is something short of “strong.” For example, the Insurance Institute suggests that the minimum age should be 16 for a learners’ permit and 18 for an unrestricted license. In North Dakota, those numbers are 14 and 16, respectively.
Another big weakness: The law sets no restrictions on the number of teen passengers a teen driver can carry. The distraction caused by a carload of peers has caused a great many accidents over the years.
But North Dakota’s new law still is a meaningful change. From now on, for example 14-year-olds who get a learner’s permit will have to hold it for a full 12 months and can drive only under supervision during that time.
And even after passing through the permit stage, drivers under 16 will be issued a restricted license that limits some risky activities — notably, driving at night.
The stakes are high: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths in North Dakota. One hundred and one teenagers died in car crashes from 2005 to 2009.
Another telling statistic: Teen drivers in 2004 constituted only 6.3 percent of America’s licensed drivers. But they were involved in 13.6 percent of all highway fatal crashes — a startling number that graduated driver licensing is expected to pull down.
For decades, American drivers have stayed safe by following tried-and-true rules: Buckle up. (The minute you do, your chance of dying behind the wheel on that trip drops by about half.) Don’t tailgate. Don’t drive when you’re drowsy, another common cause of accidents among teens.
Of course, don’t drink and drive.
Now, we can be grateful that another rule has been added to the list: Accept and abide by the rules of graduated driver licensing. It’s not an air bag, it’s not a seat belt; it’s just a card with some words in teens’ wallets.
But its lifesaving potential is real, and North Dakotans should be grateful that this new era in licensing has begun.
— Tom Dennis for the Herald