Teen Driving Laws Getting Tougher

The days of the double date or those of eight teens piling into the car for a quick trip to the Dairy Queen are being legislated out of existence by state legislatures. Strict limits are being placed on the number of teens that can occupy a car at any given time, and the police and other law enforcement agencies are constantly seeking new and easier ways to identify teens flouting the laws.

As of this year, the restrictions on the number of teens a teenage driver can have in the car are tighter than ever. Currently, no fewer than 15 states, plus the District of Columbia, prohibit teenage drivers from having even one other teen in the car, and all but seven states have passed statutes making it illegal to have more than one other teen in the vehicle.

Curfews are being established, too

It’s not just the number of teens in a car that is being legislated for in many states. South Carolina teens can forget driving to the 8 p.m. showing of the latest movie blockbuster. That state forbids teens from driving at all after 6 p.m. in the winter months, and 8 p.m. in the summer.

Idaho, too, has laws placing restrictions on when a teen can get behind the wheel. The rules in that state prohibit teen driving from sundown to sunup. New Jersey makes teenagers wait longer than any other state before they c an even get their license. They have the highest licensing age in the country, at 17.

New Jersey even insists that teens place a red decal on their license plates to make it easier for the police to spot rule infractions. Now, some legislators are pushing for even tougher laws that would require parents of teen drivers to complete a driver education course.

Why so tough on teens?

The new, tougher laws doubtless place a hardship on some families. For example, a licensed teenage driver cannot, in many states, drive his or her teenage siblings to and from school. Cases have been cited where a parent has to follow their teenage son or daughter to school in a separate car in order to get the remaining children to class.

The campaign to tighten laws on when and how teens can drive shows no signs of abating. If anything, they’re getting tougher. North Dakota was the last state in the country to introduce graduated driver’s licenses (they introduced them in January of this year), and 29 states have actually introduced more restrictive clauses to existing legislation since 2009.

The reasons for the tougher laws are simple enough to understand when the statistics related to injury-causing or fatal crashes are revealed. Teen drivers may not like the new laws, which they deem as unfair and unnecessary, but it’s hard to argue with the facts.

Some of the numbers revealed by a variety of studies make it hard to argue that the more stringent laws are either unfair or unnecessary. They show that:

  • Car crashes, even with the tighter laws, remain the leading cause of death for teens.
  • Teens have a crash rate that is four times higher than older drivers.
  • A staggering two-thirds of accidents leading to the death of a teen occur in a car being driven by another teen.
  • The risk of a teenager being involved in a crash increases by 44 percent with only one teenage passenger.
  • If three or more teenage passengers are in the car with a teen driver, the chances of crashing increase by a shocking 400 percent!

The same studies reveal the harsh reasons behind the much higher crash and fatality levels. Research has shown that:

  • Teenage drivers have a strong tendency to overrate their own driving skills.
  • Teens also tend to drastically (and dangerously) underestimate road hazards and risks.
  • Teenagers are less able to multitask while driving, particularly in areas like:
    • Talking to friends in the car
    • Listening to the radio while driving
    • Texting

The tougher laws are working

In spite of the hardship (whether real or perceived) caused by the tighter controls on teen driving, safety campaigners proudly point to studies that show the new laws have had a significant effect on reducing the number of traffic deaths involving teenage drivers and passengers.

This success seems to be spurring states into taking even tougher stances on laws relating to teen driving. This explains the rapid increase in the number of states introducing or further tightening driving curfews, as well as the restrictions on the number of teen passengers.

The federal government is also encouraging states, through a number of incentives, to tighten laws on teen driving even further.

The new highway bill, just passed this summer, set up a range of incentives for those states that place further restrictions on teenage drivers. In particular, the federal government wants states to:

  •  Place stricter limits on the number of passengers teens can carry and the hours they can drive
  • Place a blanket ban on the use of cell phones by teenage drivers, even those using hands-free headsets
  • Extend new and existing restrictions up to the age of 18 in states where they currently end at age 17 or earlier
  • Examine the possibility of tying drivers’ licenses to school attendance

Justin McNaull, Director of State Relations for the AAA, would like to see passenger limits extended until drivers reach the age of 21, or possibly even 25. “We don’t want to say that teens are a menace to us all, but the reality is, when teen drivers crash, it’s people in other cars or teen passengers who end up dying,” McNaull said.

Oregon laws on teen driving

Oregon has taken its own steps in an effort to reduce the number of teenage accidents on state roads. What’s more, the state has introduced stringent penalties for teenage drivers who flout the laws.

One example is the complete ban on anyone under the age of 18 using a cell phone or any other text messaging device while driving. The use of hands-free devices is no excuse. A conviction of this law, among several others, will count towards those that will lead to the offender being placed in the Provisional Driver Improvement Program.

Under this program, the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles will restrict the privileges of any driver under the age of 18 for 90 days. They will only be permitted to drive for work purposes and even then with no passengers other than a parent, stepparent or guardian. A teenage driver will be placed in the program if they have:

  • Two convictions
  • Two accidents (whether or not the teen driver was at fault)
  • A combination of one conviction and one accident

Drivers who are in the first year of a provisional license will face further restrictions, and any violation of those restrictions will result in increasingly severe penalties. A third conviction or accident during the initial restrictions will result in the DMV suspending all your driving privileges for six months, regardless of whether you turn 18 during the suspension period.

Teenagers see driving as a rite of passage, but with rights come responsibilities. Other road users also have the right to safe passage along Oregon streets, roads and highways. Sadly and all too frequently, innocent drivers, passengers, pedestrians or bicyclists are the victims of drivers who were driving too fast or who were distracted by friends, phones or music.

If you’ve been injured in a road traffic accident that wasn’t your fault, you also have rights. For a complete explanation of the options available to you and your family, contact a dedicated Portland personal injury attorney. The consultation is free, so make the call and find out how you can go about recovering your medical expenses and lost wages. A good lawyer is the best place to start.