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Waiting until 18; Downside to tougher teen driving law.

COLUMN: IN OUR OPINION

Tough requirements for "junior operators" in Massachusetts - teens 16-1/2 or older who pass the driver education requirements and road test - have paid off for that age group, safety advocates say.

But the 2007 graduated driver's license law may have an unintended and significant weakness. Young people who opt to wait until after turning 18 to start driving - often because they can't afford the expense or the time - are missing out on the added instruction and road time their younger peers receive.

In Massachusetts, a child can apply for a learner's permit at the age of 16. The learner is eligible to become a junior operator six months later, when driver education and road test requirements are satisfied, and keeps that designation until turning 18.

For drivers younger than 18, the state in 2007 doubled behind-the-wheel instruction to 12 hours, approximately doubling the cost of driver education. Teens must drive at least 40 hours accompanied by a parent or guardian, required parents to take a two-hour class in addition to teens' 30 hours of classroom instruction, and placed restrictions on night driving and on driving with young passengers.

We support intense oversight and restrictions for drivers under 18. The rules confer practical benefits and convey that driving is a serious endeavor.

According to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, motor vehicle deaths among 16- and 17-year-olds declined to 16 in 2010 from 24 in 2007.

But for 18-year-old drivers, national statistics are troubling. The American Medical Association reported recently that data from 1986 through 2007 show that there were 1,348 fewer fatal crashes involving 16-year-olds following enactment of graduated driver licensing, but 1,086 more deaths involving 18-year-olds.

In Massachusetts, the number of young drivers completing driver education has dropped 20 percent since the law was enacted, according to Daniel A. Strollo, president of the Professional Driver Education Association of Massachusetts.

Timothy J. Cooney Jr., president of Central Massachusetts Safety Council Auto School, told the Sunday Telegram the failure rate on the license road test is high among 18-year-olds who haven't taken driver education.

One way to help the situation might be to decrease the behind-the-wheel instruction time from 12 hours to perhaps 8, lowering the cost of driver's ed. Easing even slightly the rules for younger drivers should not be taken lightly, but it could well be worth it if more new drivers decided not to take the wait-to-age-18 route.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Aug 27, 2012
Words:405
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