State driving laws improve performance

Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Louisiana appears to have the stringent driver’s license requirements in place that can help youngsters avoid becoming alarming statistics in a new and disturbing national trend.

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows strong driver’s license laws have led to fewer fatal crashes among 16-year-olds. However, the nationwide study found there are more fatal accidents among 18-year-olds.

Why the difference? Many states require that young drivers who are 16 have extensive experience behind the wheel, including driving with adults. But in most states, those laws only apply to drivers younger than 18.

Email newsletter signup

“There’s an incentive right now to skip out and just wait until you’re 18,” said Scott Masten, the recent study’s lead author. “In most states, you don’t even need to have driver education or driver training” if you obtain a license at 18, he said.

Researchers said evidence suggests many teens are waiting until they are older to get their licenses. In California, only 13 percent of 16-year-olds have driver’s licenses.

Louisiana has avoided that pitfall. Youngsters at 15 can get a learner’s permit, but they must complete 30 hours of classroom instruction and eight hours of behind-the-wheel instruction. They have to maintain the learner’s permit for a minimum of 180 days and can’t get an intermediate license until they reach 16.

At 16, young drivers can get an intermediate license, but they must pass a road skills driving test. And they can’t drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless accompanied by an adult.

The full driver’s license is available at age 17. And that is where Louisiana is a notch above most states. Those drivers 17 or above have to either complete stages 1 and 2 or complete a full driver’s education course or a six-hour prelicensing course.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said New Jersey is one of the few states where graduated driver’s license restrictions apply to all first-time applicants younger than 21. The result has been lower crash rates among 17- and 18-year-olds.

Researchers estimate that since the first graduated licensing program began in 1996, the programs have been associated with 1,348 fewer fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers, but with 1,086 more fatal crashes involving 18-year-olds.

Dr. Flaura Winston is a pediatrician and traffic injury expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She said the recent study confirms that graduated licensing is doing as intended. It keeps young drivers from being in high-risk conditions before they are prepared to handle those situations, she said.

Louisiana has toughened its driving requirements in recent years. Act 1039 of 2010, for example, says any person 17 or older can’t get a full license unless they present a signed statement that they have completed a minimum of 50 hours of supervised driving practice with a licensed parent, guardian or adult at least 21 or older.

Another valuable addition to the law is the requirement that 15 of those 50 hours of training have to be nighttime driving.

State Rep. Hollis Downs, R-Ruston, was sponsor of the 2010 law. He has been an advocate of tougher driving requirements during his two terms in the Legislature. We applaud his efforts and the support he has received over the years from his colleagues.