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Can We Evaluate Florida Teen Driving Laws By Looking at Other States?

09/21/2011
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A new study published on September 14, 2011 by the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that although fatal car crashes for 16-year-old drivers has dropped, fatalities in 18-year-old drivers has increased.  The research analyzed more than 130,000 fatal teen crashes over 22 years.

The study found that tougher licensing laws have led to 1,348 fewer fatal car crashes involving 16-year-old drivers, but, sadly, during the same period, fatal crashes involving 18-year-old drivers increased by 1,086 more fatal accidents.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States.  In fact, from 2000 to 2008, more than 23,000 drivers and 14,000 passengers aged 16 to 19 were killed as a result of teen driving.

Because of these high fatality rates, there was a push for Graduated Driver Licensing (“GDL”) systems in the 1970’s by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; however, it was not until the late 1990’s that states began to adopt these systems.  GDL systems require drivers under the age of 18 to complete a lengthy learner period and require teens to start driving only when supervised by an adult.  Teens then enter an intermediate license period that allows unsupervised driving but continues protection against highest risks such as night driving, driving with multiple passengers, or both.  Additionally, young teens in some states must complete driver’s education prior to obtaining their license.

According to the study, older teens are now putting off getting their learners permit because of the extensive measures 16 and 17-year-olds must take to get there licenses.  Ironically it would seem that the measures intended to increase safety may have resulted in older teens waiting to avoid these requirements and consequently, obtaining their licenses with less experience and resulting in more accidents.  For example, California has seen a big drop in 16-year-olds getting their driver’s license; in 1986, 27 percent got their licenses. In 2007, the figure dropped to just 14 percent.

So how do we fix this? New Jersey came up with one solution. They have one of the toughest programs for teenage drivers of any state.  In New Jersey, all first-time drivers under 21 must adhere to graduated driver restrictions.

The author’s of the study noted, “New Jersey’s approach has been associated with significant reductions in the crash rates for 17 and 18-year-olds and virtually eliminates crashes among 16-year-olds without adversely affecting crash rates for 19-year-old drivers.”

But, is New Jersey just putting off the increased fatality rates until 21?  Some think so.

A study of deadly crashes in New Jersey did not look specifically at 21-year-olds; they were mixed into a larger group of 20 to 24-year-olds. The research still found a 10 percent increase in deadly crashes in that group after New Jersey’s tougher graduated driver licensing program was instituted, suggesting that 18, 19 and 20-year-olds may be waiting out the tough restrictions there as well.

In Florida, the Learner License statute (§ 322.1615) currently sets forth:

(1) The department may issue a learner’s driver’s license to a person who is at least 15 years of age and who:

(a)  Has passed the written examination for a learner’s driver’s license;

(b) Has passed the vision and hearing examination administered under s. 322.12;

(c)  Has completed the traffic law and substance abuse education course prescribed in s. 322.095; and

(d) Meets all other requirements set forth in law and by rule of the department.

(2) When operating a motor vehicle, the holder of a learner’s driver’s license must be accompanied at all times by a driver who:

(a)  Holds a valid license to operate the type of vehicle being operated;

(b) Is at least 21 years of age; and

(c)  Occupies the closest seat to the right of the driver of the motor vehicle.

(3) A person who holds a learner’s driver’s license may operate a vehicle only during daylight hours, except that the holder of a learner’s driver’s license may operate a vehicle until 10 p.m. after 3 months following the issuance of the learner’s driver’s license.

(4) A licensee who violates subsection (2) or subsection (3) is subject to the civil penalty imposed for a moving violation as set forth in chapter 318.

What do you think? Should Florida change its laws? Is the solution implemented in New Jersey the answer?

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