Limits proposed on teens in car of teen driver

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

HARRISBURG -- Alex DeConciliis is a 17-year-old running back on the football team at Seton La Salle High School in Mt. Lebanon.

Some days this summer, including this past Friday morning, he has driven some of his teammates to preseason practices. Like many of his friends from Bethel Park, Alex borrows his parents' car or relies on other teen drivers to carpool to and from gridiron practice, basketball games or trips to local fast food restaurants.

Alex said that without rides from him, his friends "might not have been able to get to practice and could have gotten kicked off the team."

But his travel plans could be thwarted by two new bills in Harrisburg, including one by freshman Rep. Chelsa Wagner, D-Beechview.

Curbs on teen driver

Here is a list of how some states restrict young drivers:

39 states restrict in some way the passengers that teen drivers can carry.

14 states prohibit "junior drivers" from carrying any teenage passengers without an adult present for at least six months after receiving a license, and then allow only one teenage passenger for the following six months.

29 states include a "family member exemption."

Source: Governors Highway Safety Association.


She noted studies released earlier this year that suggest that teen passengers in cars driven by other teens pose one of the most dangerous distractions to new drivers.

Some state lawmakers say it's time for Pennsylvania to join 39 other states in restricting the number of passengers that "junior drivers" -- those age 16 and 17 -- can carry.

The state House Transportation Committee is considering the proposal by Ms. Wagner, and another bill by Rep. Katharine Watson, R-Bucks, that would, among other restrictions, outlaw teen car pools, such as the one Alex said his friends rely on to get to practice and social events.

"I certainly see the concerns with young drivers carrying more than one passenger," said Ms. Wagner, whose bill would limit junior drivers to carrying one minor passenger at a time. "It's a piece of legislation that makes sense for my district. Most people think it's a great idea."

In both the Wagner and Watson bills, however, young siblings and live-in relatives would be exempted from the limitation on passengers, with a parent's permission.

Twenty-nine other states include such "family-member" exemptions, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation supports both bills in the House, said PennDOT spokeswoman Sarah Gulik.

It's not the first time lawmakers have considered teen-passenger restriction laws. A similar bill passed the House last session. But the legislation got lost in the shuffle during contentious budget negotiations and faced some resistance because of the exemption for siblings and relatives, Ms. Wagner said.

But state lawmakers might be motivated to act this year, in light of studies recently released, Ms. Watson said. Research conducted by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance Co. suggests that teen passengers are one of the greatest distractions for young drivers.

And the Children's Hospital/State Farm team released another study in June that supports sibling exemptions by showing that they pose less of a risk than non-related teen passengers.

The Children's Hospital report found that a young driver's risk of a fatal crash increases "exponentially" with teen passengers, said Dr. Dennis Durbin, one of the researchers. With two or more passengers, for instance, the fatal crash risk was five times as high as driving alone.

Though scientists aren't sure why there's a correlation between teenage passengers and fatal crashes, Dr. Durbin said the "scientific evidence from the research is absolutely airtight."

He added, "The passenger restriction is critical. Restricting passengers will lower the risk of fatal crash for young drivers."

Concerns that passenger restrictions might hurt parents who rely on their teen drivers to chauffeur younger siblings led the group to conduct the June study, which assessed the merits of family exemptions, Dr. Durbin said.

The study confirmed that kids who drive with teens in general are at a greater risk for injury. But kids and young teen-agers who were siblings of the teen drivers--the study used drivers under 20 years old--were at 40 percent lower risk of injury in a crash than if they were driven by a non-related teen driver.

"Providing family-driver exemptions might make the adoption [of the laws] more palatable, and is at least supported in part by our initial research," Dr. Durbin said.

Ms. Watson said the final bill could include safety provisions that go beyond the single-passenger restriction, such as banning cell phone use while driving and requiring teens to have more hours of driver training.

She said it's time for Pennsylvania to pass laws that reflect the latest scientific evidence. Restrictions might inconvenience teens, but she said that's a small price to pay for the benefits of the law.

"It isn't kids who are bad kids" who would be affected by this law, she said. "It's good kids who make one mistake that can be fatal." Her proposal, she argued, is designed to take away some of the factors that lead to those bad decisions.

"This law will save lives," she said.

Sarina Rosenberg is an intern with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association. She can be reached at 717-705-6079.


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?