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Seeking safer drivers

October 09, 1998

A new proposal by West Virginia's Highway Safety Task Force would allow teens to obtain an instructional driver's license at age 15, after an eye exam and a written test. But it would be all uphill from there on for young Mountain State motorists. The task force's recommendations are all well-intentioned, but some are based on unrealistic ideas instead of real-life experience.

Under the recommendations, a 15-year-old could drive only in daylight, with a licensed driver 21 years or older in the car. Teen-age passengers would be forbidden.

If there were no accidents or violations within a year, the teen could take a road test and obtain an intermediate license. An adult driver would still have to accompany the teen after dark, and there could be no more than two teen-age passengers. At age 18, a motorist with no accidents or traffic citations could get a full unrestricted license.

The biggest obstacle to the plan's recommendations may be the cost of setting up the additional tests and the different license classes, which the task force report didn't estimate. But even if we assume the extra costs can be absorbed in the existing budget, there are practical problems as well.

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Preventing 16-year-olds who are old enough to work from driving without an adult in the car means that mom and dad would have to pick them up after their shift at the hamburger stand. It would also means that teens wouldn't be able to drive younger brothers and sisters to youth activities when parents are working or busy with other children.

The proposed restriction that makes the most sense is the limit on the number of teen-age passengers. A car full of boisterous teens is likely to be a serious distraction for inexperienced drivers, and may even egg them on to try dangerous activities like "hill hopping."

The instructional-license proposal for 15-year-old makes sense, but 16-year-olds who've been driving for a year with no problems shouldn't need mom and dad riding along with them in the evenings, provided, of course, there isn't a gang of rowdy kids in the back seat.

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