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New Pennsylvania Law Toughens Policy On Teen Drivers

It’s no secret that the youngest drivers in Philadelphia are also some of the most dangerous. Unfortunately, inexperience and poor driving decisions have cost the lives of many young people in the state over the past few years. In fact, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among young people in the United States.

After considering this grave reality, many states have decided to take action and impose tougher regulations on new teen drivers. Pennsylvania has recently decided to take action as well, limiting the number of passengers teens can have in their cars and requiring more training time behind the wheel.

The new law, which cleared the General Assembly on Wednesday and is expected to be signed by the governor any day now, also makes driving without a seatbelt a primary offense, which means that police officers can pull teens over if they see a driver or a passenger who is not buckled up.

With regard to passengers, the new law will limit teen drivers to one non-related passenger only for the first six months after the teen receives a junior license. (In Pennsylvania, teens can receive a junior license at 161/2.) Then, until age 18, they can still carry no more than 3 passengers who are not immediate family members.

Additionally, the bill raises the behind the wheel training requirement from 50 to 65 hours, including 10 hours of driving at night and in poor weather. However, the new law still does not ban teens from texting while driving, but that could change in the next few months, lawmakers said.

Even without a texting provision, state lawmakers appeared to be satisfied with the new law.

“For the first time, this bill backs up in law parents who say that for the first six months of having a license, the teen driver can’t take a carload of friends to the pizzeria after a football game,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Katharine Watson (R., Bucks).

Rep. Watson’s district has seen several recent fatal accidents involving teen drivers, including an accident involving five teens that left two dead and one seriously injured.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, motor vehicle crashes involving 16- or 17-year-old drivers increased 43 percent in 2010 compared to the year before. Hopefully this new law does something to stop that.

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Pa. passes tougher rules on new teen drivers,” Amy Worden, Sept. 29, 2011.