This month New Jersey's new law imposing increased restrictions on young drivers, Kyleigh's Law, went into effect. The law, which would, among other things, require all new drivers under 21 to place a red sticker on their license plates has faced widespread opposition and civil disobedience. Concerned about singling out young people to make them targets both for police and sexual predators, opponents have described the law as dangerous and discriminatory. In the midst of this citizen revolt the US Senate is considering federal legislation that would seek to impose some of New Jersey's strictest in the nation driving standards upon all 50 states.
The STAND UP ACT is a mistake and should be reconsidered. If this bill's supporters believe new drivers need time to ease into driving then this bill should apply to all new drivers, not just new drivers under 18. If someone has never been behind the wheel of a car they don't magically become adept at driving by waiting until they are an adult. To target only those under 18 is arbitrary age discrimination.
There are serious questions that remain over the efficacy of graduated driver's licenses. Research that claims to support the effectiveness of GDLs has been highly publicized. However these studies neglect to examine whether GDLs are simply restricting teens or actually preparing them to be safe drivers. The only study to have examined this issue, by youth policy expert, Dr. Mike Males, found that young adult drivers who had recently traded in their GDL for a full license had more accidents and more fatal crashes than drivers of the same age who never had a graduated driver's license. The STAND UP ACT should not be passed without proper examination of this research.
GDLs make it more difficult for young people to drive. Naturally, some young people will simply wait until they are older to get their license and avoid the restrictions. In fact there has been a significant drop in teens driving since 1978. The number of 16 year olds with licenses declined from 50% to 31% and 17 year olds with licenses declined from 75% to 49%. If all these laws accomplish is a reduction in the number of drivers who go through driver's training, the GDL requirements, and the essential training period of having a provisional license , then this law is not only discriminatory it is counterproductive.
One new restriction in the bill would ban all cell phone use and texting by drivers under 18. Texting or talking while driving is undoubtedly dangerous, but there is no evidence to suggest it is uniquely dangerous to those under 18. In fact research shows that a teen on a cell phone has the same reaction times as a senior citizen not on a cell phone. If we believe teens on cell phones are so dangerous that federal legislation is needed, shouldn't we, by the same token, ban all drivers over 65? The reality is that texting or talking on a cell phone is dangerous for all drivers. Some research even concludes it is comparable to drunk driving. Can you imagine having a law that says drunk driving is just fine as long as you are over 18? Let's not make the same mistake with texting while driving.
This bill doesn't just create GDL standards, it outright raises the driving age. If we want to give new drivers more time behind the wheel we should lower the permit age, not raise it. In fact this law would raise the age for a learner's permit in 41 states and raise the age for a full license in 32 states. The supporters of this bill claim it is in step with the direction the nation is going, however the vast majority of states are not on board with the requirements in this bill. Each of these states has a better sense of the needs of their people than the federal government; these decisions should be made in Lansing and Little Rock, not Washington. This bill fails to appreciate the diversity of this country and attempts to take dangerous and discriminatory laws from New Jersey and Connecticut and apply them to states like South Dakota, Texas and Vermont. Those who are pushing passage of The STAND UP ACT should sit down and reconsider.