April 27, 2010

Gillibrand Announces National Plan To Require Minimum Requirements For Graduated Drivers Licenses In All 50 States

Car Crashes Are Number One Cause of Death Among Teens in America

Washington, DC – With hundreds of thousands of young teen drivers on New York roadways, and with car accidents the number one cause of death for teenagers in America, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced a new national plan to make our roads safer and save lives. Senator Gillibrand will introduce in the U.S. Senate the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection (STAND UP) Act – legislation to set national standards for states to implement Graduated Drivers License (GDL) programs that prepare teens to be safe, responsible drivers.

In 2008, more than half of the nearly 6,500 people killed in car accidents in America were teenagers. Drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 years old are four times more likely to get in a crash than older drivers. Nine drivers in that age range die each day from injuries from car accidents.

“Deadly car accidents are one of the most heartbreaking tragedies a family can go through,” Senator Gillibrand said. “But there are steps we can take to prevent many of these accidents and save innocent lives.  To ensure the safety of all our teenage drivers, we need higher standards for driver’s licenses. The nation should follow New York’s lead and establish strong minimum requirements for graduated driver’s licenses in all 50 states.  This legislation will give young drivers better education and more experience before they get out on the roads, keeping us all safer and saving lives.” 

16-year-olds in their first year of unrestricted driving are the most likely to be in a car accident. Across New York, there are over 230,000 16 and 17-year-old drivers.

READ the full county-by-county report on how many teens are driving on New York roadways. 

To give teen drivers more experience and better driving education before they set out on the road, and to make our roads safer and save more lives, Senator Gillibrand announced her sponsorship of the STAND UP Act.

National Standards for GDLs
GDLs 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, and learning to eliminate distractions that cause accidents.  While every state has some version of a GDL system, the requirements vary widely and are very weak in some states.  For instance, 6 states allow for learner’s permits to issued to drivers as young as 14; 3 states have no regulations on nighttime driving for teen drivers; and 1 state (South Dakota) allows for a 16 year old to receive an unrestricted license.

The legislation would call on states to establish GDL systems with minimum requirements:

  • A 3-stage licensing process, from learner’s permit to intermediate state to full, non-restricted drivers licensing;
  • Prohibited night driving during learner’s permit and intermediate stage;
  • Passenger restrictions during learner’s permit and intermediate stage. No more than one non-family member under the age of 21 may travel with a learning teenage driver, unless a licensed driver over the age of 21 is in the vehicle;
  • Prohibited non-emergency use of cell phones and other communication devices, including text messaging during the learner’s permit and intermediate stages;
  • Learner’s permits to be issued at age 16 and non-restricted drivers licenses to be issued at age 18;
  • Any other requirement set by the Secretary of Transportation, including: learner’s permit holding period of at least six months; intermediate stage of at least six months; at least 30 hours of driving supervised by a licensed driver 21 years old or older; automatic delay of  full licensure if permit holder commits an offense, such as a DWI, misrepresentation of age, reckless driving, driving without a seatbelt, speeding, or other violations determined by the Transportation secretary.

States would have a three year window to establish this set of minimum requirements.

Currently, New York already meets nearly all of these standards. Under the STAND UP Act, New York State would need to change the current regulations to require that an unrestricted license can only be acquired at age 18. Right now, that license can be acquired at age 17 in New York.

Costs of Inaction
States that fail to meet new requirements within three years would lose out on 3 percent of their federal highway funding the first fiscal year of non-compliance, 5 percent for the second fiscal year, and 10 percent from the third fiscal year.

Facing similar consequences, all 50 states passed laws to establish 21 as the legal drinking age, a .08 percent legal blood alcohol level, and a zero tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving.

Resources for States
The STAND UP Act would authorize $25 million in grants each year to help give states the resources they need to put new standards in place – from enforcing standards, to training law enforcement, to publishing new educational materials.