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Driving teens to be safe

March 19, 1999

The dream of almost every teenager - getting a driver's license - will be more difficult to achieve under a bill that passed the Pennsylvania House this past Tuesday. We back the measure because it makes it clear that learning to drive is not a game, but serious business.

The bill was written as a result of a task force appointed last year by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, which found that during their first year on the road, one in every six teen drivers is involved in a serious accident, or is cited for a major violation. Sponsors of the bill also found, to their surprise, no studies to indicate that driver's education had any measurable role in making teens safer drivers.

And so the lawmakers decided to give driver-training training responsibilities to parents or other responsible adults. Prior to license testing, a parent or other adult over 21 would have to sit in the front seat with the young driver and guide their driving for at least 50 hours.

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Other provisions:

-Instead of the current 30 days, teenagers would have to hold a junior license for at least six months,

- Junior license-holders would have to be off the road by 11 p.m. instead of the current midnight curfew, and

- Before they could get a senior license, teens would have to be accident-free for at least a year, and have no traffic-related convictions on their record during that time.

Opponents of the proposal say it places an unreasonable burden on parents, and that there's no way to monitor how much time adults spend supervising their junior license-holder. We say that compared to a lifetime's worth of driving, it's not much of a burden at all, and if parents choose to lie to evade their responsibilities, they put their own children at risk as well.

The one change we would like to see if the bill is amended in the senate is a provision to study the way driver's education is taught in Pennsylvania. If it's truly ineffective in preventing accidents, state regulators need to step in, so that parents aren't paying for a service that doesn't work.

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