July 29, 2011

Key Senate Committee Bill Includes Gillibrand’s National Teen Driving Safety Plan – Important New Step To Save Lives

More Than 280 NYers Died in Car Accidents Involving Sixteen & Seventeen Year Old Drivers From 2005-2009 - Over 46,000 Injured

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced that a section of the Transportation Authorization bill taken up by Senate Commerce Committee includes Senator Gillibrand’s Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection (STAND UP) Act. The legislation would set national standards for states to implement Graduated Drivers License (GDL) programs that prepare teens to be safe, responsible drivers. The Senate Commerce Committee introduced the Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Improvement Act, which authorizes programs at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  The legislation will become part of the larger Transportation Authorization package, taken up by Congress later this year.

More than 280 New Yorkers died in car accidents involving sixteen and seventeen year old drivers from 2005 to 2009, and more than 46,000 were injured.

America’s teenagers overwhelmingly support GDLs, according to polling. In fact, nearly 75 percent of teens approve of a single, comprehensive law that incorporates the key elements of GDL.

“I have two young boys at home, and like any parent, their safety and well-being means everything to me,” Senator Gillibrand said. “As parents, we know that the day will come when each of our children will get behind the wheel of a car. 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. 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.”

Jackie Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said, “For teens, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in every state.  Every year, more than 5,000 people die in crashes involving teen drivers.  Fortunately, a comprehensive Graduated Driver Licensing or GDL law is an effective vaccine that can help prevent teen crashes, yet not all states are using it.  Today’s action by the Democratic leaders of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee to include an incentive grant program encouraging state adoption of strong GDL laws is the result of Senator Gillibrand’s commitment and tenacity on the issue of teen driving and saving lives.”

Janet Froetscher, President & CEO, National Safety Council said, “The National Safety Council is very pleased that the Senate Commerce Committee today included in the proposed NHTSA Reauthorization bill incentives to states to enact comprehensive Graduated Driver Licensing laws for teen drivers.  We know that GDL saves lives and we believe that this leadership from the Congress will encourage states to act to save the lives of young drivers and all of us who share the roads with them.”

“By including the provisions of the STANDUP Act in the NHTSA reauthorization, Sen. Gillibrand and the Senate Commerce Committee have taken a big step forward in protecting the lives of young drivers.  As an emergency nurse, no job is more difficult than telling a parent that their child has died in a preventable car accident and these provisions will help keep our young people safe on the roads.  Sen. Gillibrand and the Committee are to be commended for their leadership and vision on this issue,” said AnnMarie Papa, DNP, RN, CEN, NE-BC, FAEN, 2011 Emergency Nurses Association President.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics applauds Chairman Pryor and Senator Gillibrand for their leadership to protect teen drivers by including graduated drivers licensing (GDL) provisions in the NHTSA reauthorization.  Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers, and research overwhelmingly demonstrates that GDL programs reduce teen car crashes. This legislation will save lives by helping ensure that young drivers in every state have the same protection, training, and requirements before they take to the road,” said O. Marion Burton, MD FAAP, American Academy of Pediatrics President.

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, six states allow for learner’s permits to be issued to drivers as young as 14; three states have no regulations on nighttime driving for teen drivers; and one 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;
  • Restrictions on night driving during 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;
  • Intermediate License issued no earlier than 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.

Currently, New York State already meets nearly all of these standards. Under the STAND UP Act, New York State would need to change their 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 with a completed driver education course.

Resources for States
The STAND UP Act would authorize $22 million in grants each year for two years to incentivize states to do the right thing and implement these life-saving laws making them eligible for additional federal resources to help put new standards in place – from enforcing standards, to training law enforcement, to publishing new educational materials.

The STAND UP Act is supported by a coalition of groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), and the National Safety Council.