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STATE SHOULD RAISE STANDARDS FOR NEW DRIVERS

When you've been doing it for years, driving a car may seem like riding a bicycle: Once you've learned, it's something you never forget. But as with biking, there's a break-in period for new drivers, and statistics show that in their first year behind the wheel they get into more than their share of accidents. . . .

There's nothing in the law to stop an upstate New Yorker from walking into a local DMV office on his or her 16th birthday, getting a learner's permit . . . then returning the next day for a junior license (which allows unaccompanied operation between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m.). While it would be necessary to pass written and road tests, it's unfathomable that someone could be granted a license to drive alone . . . without first having to practice with an experienced adult driver. . . . The crash rate for 16-year-old drivers is five times higher than for over-25 drivers. Sixteen-year-olds drive only 0.5 percent of all vehicle miles nationwide but were the drivers in 2.1 percent of all fatal accidents. And they account for 3.4 percent of all driving fatalities. . . .

New York needs to join the 29 states that have imposed so-called "graduated" license requirements. A bill passed the Senate this year that . . . would raise the minimum age of a junior license to 16 1/2 , while adding a requirement for at least 30 hours of supervised operation. . . .

To qualify for an unrestricted adult license, an operator would have to be at least 17 1/2 -- up from 17 -- taken driver's education, and had a clean driving record with a junior license for at least one year. . . . These changes might not be very popular with teen-agers, but they would be for their own good, and for the good of everyone else on the road.

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