Tougher teen driving laws considered for Michigan


Number of 16-year-olds killed while behind the wheel is down under state’s graduated licensing law.

Gary Heinlein / Detroit News Lansing Bureau

The number of 16-year-old drivers injured or killed in auto accidents has declined dramatically in the 11 years since Michigan policymakers enacted a graduated driver licensing law, new figures show.

But as parents worry about sons and daughters getting behind the wheel for proms and graduation parties this spring, lawmakers are considering additional restrictions on new drivers. Some experts say the further tightening of teen driving laws is a good idea.

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One pending bill would limit to one the number of teenage or younger passengers they could have riding with them. Another would prohibit 16-year-old drivers from using cell phones while at the wheel.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the mother of two teenage daughters, said she supports the additional restrictions. Their prospects for passage this year are unclear, but both pieces of legislation got added attention after two Macomb County accidents that claimed the lives of five young people this spring.

“I believed in this even before that,” said Rep. Edward Gaffney, R-Grosse Pointe Farms, sponsor of the bill restricting teen drivers’ passengers.

“Distraction is the biggest cause of crashes, especially among teenagers. These are not adults; they’re children we’re trying to protect. That’s something we do all the time.”

Crash figures involving 16-year-old drivers for 2007, compiled by the Michigan State Police Office of Highway Safety Planning, illustrate the progress in efforts to protect young drivers. Last year’s 32 deaths, in 11,405 crashes, represent a 41 percent decrease in fatalities for 16-year-old drivers since 1996 — the year before the graduated driver’s license for teens became law. Fatalities for drivers in all age groups declined over the same period by a lower proportion, 28 percent.

This year, as in past years, about 120,000 Michigan teenagers have taken or are taking driver education classes, according to the Secretary of State. Under the state’s graduated driver’s license rules, they are required to pass through two levels of training and restricted driving.

Jean Shope, associate director of the University of Michigan Traffic Research Institute, said it is clear the graduated license is reducing the number of tragedies involving Michigan’s youngest drivers. In a study four years after the law was adopted, the institute tracked a trend that continued through last year.

“My hunch is that it may be working even better than it was then,” Shope said, adding that institute researchers also noticed a drop in the number of young drivers in the first four years after the law took effect.

“We think that’s good,” she said. “They’re learning more, a little bit more mature and having time for driving with their parents.”

Shope said Michigan was among the leaders in enacting graduated licenses, but “we’re now getting a finger pointed at us” because a number of other states have adopted added restrictions, including limits on non-adult passengers. She suggests lawmakers here follow suit.

“The principle is to allow teenagers to gain experience under less-risky conditions. As you’re learning this new skill which is a very complex one, and you have to worry about other drivers, traffic signals and so forth, you don’t want to be distracted.”

Shope said with several young passengers, “some dynamic goes on that puts a young driver at risk.”

‘It’s a tough issue’

While the proposed cell phone prohibition for teen drivers still is in a House committee, Gaffney has made progress in his third attempt at a bill that would prohibit intermediate drivers from having more than one passenger under 18 — other than an immediate family member. The restriction would apply unless the driver also was accompanied by a parent or guardian.

In 2004, a similar bill passed the House but was defeated 21-17 in the Senate. Opponents then said it was well-intentioned but overreaching. They said it would end teen carpooling to school, not to mention double-dating.

Gaffney’s Housed-passed 2005 bill then died in the Senate Transportation Committee.

His new measure also has passed the House and is in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Sen. Michael Switalski, D-Roseville, opposed Gaffney’s two earlier bills, but said the latest version comes closer to what opponents could accept. The new bills would allow 16-year-olds to have more than one young passenger if they were driving to or from school or a school function.

“People said, ‘Wait a minute. You’re at a school function and you can’t give your buddy a ride home because you already have one passenger?’ ” Switalski said.

Teens, who can’t vote, easily can be deprived of important rights if lawmakers get carried away, he said.

“It’s a tough issue,” he added. “You want them to be safe, and I’ve got a 15-year-old whom I want to be safe. But you don’t want to overdo it. You’re affecting a lot of good kids who are safe drivers and won’t screw around.”

Tougher teen rules get the endorsement of Lenox Township resident Louis Johnston, although it would not have applied to his 20-year-old son, Eric, who died in one of the Macomb crashes.

“It’s bad for an inexperienced driver not to have full attention to what he’s doing,” Johnston said.

A lesson to be learned

The early-morning May 2 crash also killed a 17-year-old passenger in the car Eric Johnston was driving: Michael DeMonte of New Haven. A 16-year-old passenger, Drake Boyer of New Haven, was critically injured when the car hit a tree along 28 Mile.

Johnston said he didn’t know why his son was behind the wheel. He was picked up, after midnight, by the other two boys and told his parents he was going for cigarettes, the father said.

But Johnston thinks there is a lesson to be learned: “A minute or two of bad decision-making resulted in two people losing their lives and one ending up in the hospital.”

The legislative proposals got mixed reactions from two students at Waverly High School, near Lansing.

Last week, they were completing their final sessions of training behind the wheel, supervised by Fields Driving Academy instructors Craig and Tammie Fields and Tami Wesley.

“They should handle this the way they do other things — (restrictions) just for the people the teachers think can’t handle the driving as well,” said Emilio Hernandez, 16, who nevertheless plans to abstain from cell phone use while at the wheel. He said he hopes to take pressure off his mom by driving himself to work, school and friends’ houses.

But Julie Cruz, 15, agrees with the proposed limits.

“If it’s raining outside and you have somebody in the car with you who is talking, it can be a distraction,” she said. “(And) I definitely believe you shouldn’t talk on a cell phone while you’re driving.”


Source: Gary Heinlein / Detroit News Lansing Bureau

“Allstate America’s Teen Driving Hotspots” Study Highlights Metro Areas With Highest Rates of Deadly Crashes

WEBWIRE – Friday, May 09, 2008

Study release launches Allstate’s “Action Against Distraction” campaign, stresses dangers of distracted driving, calls for uniform, national Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) laws.

Metro areas in the southern United States scored lowest in a study released today by Allstate Insurance Company that identifies “hotspots” where fatal teen driving crash rates are highest. The release of the study, which includes data for metropolitan areas around the country, kicks off the company’s national “Action Against Distraction” safe teen driving campaign.

The “Allstate America’s Teen Driving Hotspots” study found that the 10 deadliest hotspots among the nation’s 50 largest metro areas are concentrated in the southern United States and include three in Florida. According to the study, the metropolitan areas (a central city and its surrounding counties) that were the deadliest hotspots for fatal teen crashes are:

* Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Fla.
* Orlando/Kissimmee, Fla.
* Jacksonville, Fla.
* Nashville, Tenn.
* Birmingham, Ala.
* Phoenix, Ariz.
* Kansas City, Mo. (and Kan.)
* Atlanta, Ga.
* Charlotte, N.C.
* Louisville, Ky.

The study examines recent federal crash statistics, Allstate claims data on teen collisions, and U.S. Census bureau statistics to score metro areas across the nation on rates of fatal crashes involving teen drivers.

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“The study shouldn’t just concern parents and leaders in the nation’s deadliest hotspots – car crashes claim the lives of more American teens than anything else coast-to-coast” said George Ruebenson, president, Allstate Protection. “Although some cities post better scores than others, the whole country must take responsibility for addressing this crisis. We feel that state and federal leaders should enact uniform national standards for graduated drivers licensing laws. Further, we must have better conversations with teens about safe driving and set good examples through our own good driving behavior”

Interestingly, the markets scoring best in the study include some of the nation’s largest cities. While these metro areas generally had more total fatal accidents than others – including the New York City area with a nation-leading 869 fatal accidents involving teen drivers from 2000 through 2006 – the scores were lower when factored against the size of local teen populations. The best scoring cities are:

* San Francisco/Oakland, Calif.
* San Jose, Calif.
* New York City (including Long Island and northern New Jersey)
* Los Angeles, Calif.
* Cleveland, Ohio
* Milwaukee, Wisc.
* Boston, Mass.
* Portland, Ore.
* Salt Lake City, Utah
* Chicago, Ill.

The study also found that, across the U.S., fatal crash rates for teens are double in rural areas compared to cities and suburbs. Nationally, of the 43,437 fatal crashes involving teen drivers from 2000 through 2005, 29,998 were in metro areas. But the average rate of fatal teen crashes in rural areas nationally is 51.5 annually per 100,000 teens, compared to 25.4 in metro areas. The greatest disparities in rural over metro crash rates was seen in Florida, with Delaware and Utah also posting significant differences.

The study was conducted by Allstate in conjunction with Sperling’s BestPlaces (, a Portland, Oregon research firm specializing in demographic studies and analysis. A more detailed breakdown on the study results – including other market and state comparisons – can be found here: “Allstate America’s Teen Driving Hotspots” Study

Today’s release of study findings by Allstate Insurance Company kicks off the company’s new national “Action Against Distraction” public awareness and policy campaign, which also calls for a national federal standard for graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws and urges Congress to enact the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection (STANDUP) Act.

In addition, throughout May and June – months leading up to some of the deadliest driving days for teens – Allstate will be conducting teen distracted driving training courses aimed at reducing the impact of distracted driving practices such as texting and talking on the phone while driving. Teens in over a dozen cities throughout the United States will participate in the distracted driving training courses.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an average of more than 17 teens a day die on American roads during June, July and August – the three months with the highest teen crash rates. Nearly 6,000 teens die in car crashes every year, a statistic that hasn’t changed in more than a decade. While research shows that both parents and teens believe alcohol is the cause of most crashes involving teen drivers, the primary causes of most teen crashes – between 2003 and 2005 – was driver error (87 percent).

To help teens stay safe through prom, graduation, the summer and beyond, parents should initiate a conversation about smart driving. This conversation can include completion of a Parent-Teen Driving Contract, which helps set guidelines for smart driving and consequences for not living up to those expectations. Parents and teens can fill out the interactive contract – setting their own expectations and consequences – online at

Research conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development indicates intervention materials, including parent-teen driving agreements, increase parental restriction of high-risk teen driving conditions among newly licensed drivers.

Allstate also urges state lawmakers to enact better state-level GDL laws that allow novice drivers to gain driving experience gradually and under low-risk situations. An effective tool for saving lives, GDL laws typically involve longer periods of supervised driving, restrictions on late-night driving, limits on teen passengers and cell phone bans for drivers.