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

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10 Comments

  1. I am 15 turning 16 in June and getting my license in June as well. I am involved in activities outside of the school from which I am supposed to be giving my friends rides. We were also planning on going up north together. However, if this bill gets passed we can’t do that anymore because we only have one car and are parents are not willing to waste gas money on another car anyway. If they pass this law I will be pretty mad because me and my friends are very responsible and the one weekend we get to just relax will be ruined. Not to mention the fact that we already booked the activities. This is just an example of some of the responsible teens you will be effecting. I understand everyone wanting to keep us safe. It helps to have friends to answer the phone while you are driving and not waste money on a bunch of gas. I just felt the need to put in my opinion.

  2. I would just like to say that one person can do just as much distraction as four in a car. And so can family. There is no point to this bill.

  3. I get my license in June, I had trips Planned for like going to the beach with. My friends and carpooling, but if this law gets passed I means a numbe of things such as gas. Many people I know carpool going to lunch so they can save gas or just car pooling to a sport game Or practice. I don’t know what other people think but what if a teen driver has to give three of his team mates a ride to the game? This law would completely defeat the purpose of taking drivers training.

  4. This law will end up hurting the safe teen drivers; parents know if there child is a safe driver and they can enforce rules as needed. Teens are not just going to school functions for double-dates, and this new law will defintely help increase teen pregnancy rates in Michigan.

    • I completely agree with you. I don’t my daughter alone with her boyfriend in the car, but unfortunately that has to happen now.

  5. If this bill does not get changed it will be making people less social and making people waste more gas. I have been looking forward to turning 16 and being able to drive for so many years now and i can only have one person in my car and not drive past 10. i would understand more if we couldn’t drive past 11 and maybe only allow one person in our car for the first 2 or 3 months. that would be way more understanding. example- say there is 10 of us wanting to go to the beach we would have to take 5 cars and waste tons of gas instead of 2 cars. this is going to make everything way more expensive and also say you are at a party that is a half an hour away you would have to leav at 9:30 that is just crazy! how would you guys feel if you were all excited to get your license and a new rule comes out and you can’t stay out past 10? There are actually a lot of save drivers out here that are just getting mad that they can not be trusted.

  6. If this bill does not get changed it will be making people less social and making people waste more gas. I have been looking forward to turning 16 and being able to drive for so many years now and i can only have one person in my car and not drive past 10. i would understand more if we couldn’t drive past 11 and maybe only allow one person in our car for the first 2 or 3 months. that would be way more understanding. example- say there is 10 of us wanting to go to the beach we would have to take 5 cars and waste tons of gas instead of 2 cars. this is going to make everything way more expensive and also say you are at a party that is a half an hour away you would have to leav at 9:30 that is just crazy! how would you guys feel if you were all excited to get your license and a new rule comes out and you can’t stay out past 10? There are actually a lot of save drivers out here that are just getting mad that they can not be trusted. or at least let 16 year old drive past 10 in the summer and have more than one person in thier car for summer so everyone can enjoy it that would be a great solution.

  7. This law is riduiculous! How come it isnt a distraction to carpool to a practice but it is to the beach? it makes no sense. Everyone is talking about how we should carpool and save gas and then this comes along and does the exact opposite. Also being in by 10 makes everything harder.

  8. This Law is extremely inconveniant to all teenagers. I consider myself a responsible driver, following all of the laws and regulations. Then this law gets passed and I have to leave anywhere before 10 just to get home on time?! My mother lives an hour away and if I go to visit I have to leave by 9?!?!? Not to mention all of the sporting events and activities where we need to carpool…this law is completely pathetic. 11 would be more understable but 10 is just ridiculous and inconveniant.

  9. This Law is extremely inconveniant to all teenagers. I consider myself a responsible driver, following all of the laws and regulations. Then this law gets passed and I have to leave anywhere before 10 just to get home on time?! My mother lives an hour away and if I go to visit I have to leave by 9?!?!? Not to mention all of the sporting events and activities where we need to carpool…this law is completely pathetic. 11 would be more understable but 10 is just ridiculous and inconveniant.


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