Governor Brad Henry held a ceremonial bill signing today for House Bill 1653, also known as the Graduated Driver's License Act. Authors of the measure, Sen. Debbe Leftwich and Rep. Danny Morgan say the bill will allow teenagers more time to develop their driving skills, therefore lowering the risk of accidents, fatal or otherwise.
"Although I know this might be a bit of an inconvenience for parents who are ready for their kids to be independent, I think overall this new law is going to provide a peace of mind knowing that their children have truly conquered the art of driving and that will outweigh any inconveniences," said Leftwich, D-South OKC. "Driving is such a serious responsibility for young people who can so easily be distracted by the radio, cell phones, their passengers and other drivers. Parents can rest more assured that their kids will make it home safely each night with these new restrictions."
Under the provisions of HB 1653, all new drivers under the age of 18 will be required to have a graduated driver's license, which limits the number and age of passengers allowed in a vehicle with a teenage driver along with the hours a student can drive on the road. Students will only be allowed to drive by themselves between the hours of 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., with the exceptions of driving to school, work, church and other related activities, or if a licensed driver is in the vehicle. They also will not be allowed to drive more than one other student around who is under the age of 21. These restrictions will be removed over a one-year period if the student maintains a clean driving record.
"Studies across the nation continue to show the success of the graduated driver's license system," said Morgan. "Forty other states have stricter driving laws than Oklahoma and they have seen a significant drop in the number of vehicle accidents involving teenagers. We want to see these same results in our state ensuring that our children and families are protected."
The lawmakers pointed out several studies showing the impact that the graduated driver's license has on crash and fatality rates.
Iowa established driving restrictions in 1999 and traffic accidents involving 16-year-old drivers have declined from 6,206 in 1998 to 4,187 in 2003 according to a June Associated Press article
North Carolina establishing driving restrictions in 1997 and the fatality rate of 16- to 18-year-old drivers has declined by 27-percent, along with a 25-percent drop in accidents among teen drivers.
A 2004 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report shows that 3,571 drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 died in motor vehicle crashes in 2003, down 4.1 percent from 3,723 in 2002.
A 2005 National Institute of Mental Health report shows that the part of the brain that weighs risks, makes judgments and controls impulsive behavior develops throughout the teen years and does not mature until around age 25.
A December 2004 USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll shows that 61-percent of Americans think that 16-year-olds are too young to drive and that 53-percent thought that licenses should not be issued until the age of 18.
"The facts speak for themselves. Something must be done to save our children and our families," said Leftwich. "This isn't the end all to this problem, but it's a good start. We must continue to educate our students about the importance of safe driving and the severity of the outcomes of irresponsible behavior behind the wheel."
HB 1653 was officially signed on June 9 and will go into effect on November 1, 2005.