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Archive for Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Safety measure

Kansas lawmakers need to look carefully at new lifesaving restrictions on young drivers.

January 3, 2007

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Some statistics released recently in Oklahoma further bolster the argument for placing additional restrictions on teen drivers in Kansas.

In previous legislative sessions, Kansas lawmakers have rejected measures that would have instituted a graduated licensing system and restricted the number of passengers in a new driver's vehicle. However, various studies are adding strength to the argument that additional restrictions could be a lifesaving change for teen drivers.

Oklahoma offers a case in point. Last week, Oklahoma reported that traffic accidents involving teen drivers and teen traffic deaths showed significant declines after new driving restrictions were implemented last year. From January through October, 6,925 drivers who were 16 or 17 years old were involved in accidents, compared with 7,369 during the same period of 2005.

Although the number of incapacitating injuries rose from 84 to 98, the number of teen fatalities dropped from 20 in 2005 to 11 in 2006. There also has been a significant drop in the number of traffic citations issued to drivers younger than 18.

The Oklahoma law is hardly draconian. For six months after obtaining their licenses, drivers are barred from driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless they are going to or from work, school, church or related activities or are with a licensed driver who is at least 21 years old. They also can have no more than one passenger in the car unless that passenger is a relative or one passenger is at least 21.

The director of the Center for Study of Young Drivers at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center visited Kansas last summer to urge the state to pass laws that restrict the number of passengers young drivers can have in their vehicles or add restrictions for nighttime driving. Kansas is one of only five states that have neither restriction for new drivers.

The need to have youngsters drive farm equipment or drive to perform farm errands has been a traditional argument in favor of the lax laws in Kansas. But even a representative of the Kansas Farm Bureau said last year that his organization likely would support restrictions on nighttime driving and carrying passengers.

It's a safe bet that additional driving restrictions won't be popular with new drivers and probably some of their parents, for whom it is convenient not to have to taxi children to various events. But simply accepting the additional injuries and deaths that studies show could be prevented is shirking our responsibility as adults to protect our young people.

Kansas is way behind other states on this issue, and our young people are paying the price. It's time to get health professionals, farm representatives and law enforcement officials together and come up with some acceptable and lifesaving restrictions for young Kansas drivers.

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