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State Bill Addresses Teen Driver Safety

June 30, 2010

When it comes to being safe drivers, teenagers need all the help they can get. Studies show that teens have the highest rate of fatal and nonfatal motor vehicle crashes of any age group of drivers. UMTRI research professor Ray Bingham is working to reduce that rate.

Bingham, who heads UMTRI's Young Driver Behavior and Injury Prevention Group, testified on June 24 in a hearing of the Michigan House of Representatives Transportation Committee in support of Substitute Bill 4493, which makes changes to Michigan's Graduated Driver Licensing law. Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) has three stages, or levels, including learner (driving with supervision), intermediate (driving alone with restrictions), and full (no restrictions).

Substitute Bill 4493 addresses three aspects of GDL: night driving, passenger restrictions, and cell phone use. If passed, the new bill would change the nighttime driving restriction to begin at 10 p.m. rather than midnight. Second, the bill would not allow teen drivers to have any nonfamily passengers under age 25 for the first six months of Level 2 licensure, and would allow only one nonfamily passenger under age 25 for the remaining duration of Level 2 licensure. Third, the bill would also restrict Level 2-licensed drivers from using cell phones for texting or talking.

A lack of driving experience puts all teens at risk, explained Bingham, but these distracting behaviors and conditions are known to elevate that risk. In his testimony, Bingham noted that teenage passengers dramatically increase the likelihood that a teen driver will be involved in a crash. Driving at night and using cell phones while driving also contribute to the danger.

According to Bingham, the enhancements to Michigan's GDL program are long overdue. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers 15 to 19 years old in Michigan and the United States. Yet, Bingham said, the current Michigan GDL program has not been modified to keep it up to date with new information from research, and "Michigan is quickly falling behind other states in the steps being taken to save lives by enhancing GDL."

In surveys conducted by Bingham's group, results show that parents of driving-aged teens in Michigan overwhelmingly support stronger GDL restrictions, which would benefit all motorists. Bingham noted that 84 percent (a total of 742 in 2008) of all people killed in motor vehicle crashes in Michigan that involve at least one teenage driver are under age 50. "So it's not just teens that are protected by GDL," he added.

According to Bingham, Substitute Bill 4493 would bring Michigan up to date in terms of GDL provisions and would raise the State from having one of the poorest GDL programs to one of the best in the United States. Based on available data, he added, the bill is very likely to reduce traffic fatalities in Michigan.

Substitute Bill 4493 will be voted on by the Michigan House of Representatives later this summer.

Photo by Shekinah Errington, UMTRI archives

For more information on teen driver safety, see

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

National Safety Council