Teen Driving Safety in Pennsylvania
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among American drivers aged 15 to 19, with 5,623 people killed in accidents involving young drivers in 2009. Statistics indicate that teenage drivers are four times more likely to crash than adults.
Risk factors that increase the teen car accident rate are teenage passengers; driving at night; lack of seat belt use; driver inexperience; and distracted driving, which includes cell phone use, playing music, talking and eating. The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an association of consumer, health, safety, and insurance organizations committed to reducing highway deaths and injuries, has identified 15 basic laws deemed essential in minimizing highway deaths and injuries among teen drivers. Among its recommendations, the advocacy group has called for a limit of one non-familial teenage passenger, night time driving restrictions and a ban on cell phone or texting for novice drivers.
Unfortunately, when it comes to enacting these 15 safety measures, Pennsylvania is among the seven worst-performing states. Its poor performance is alarming considering that the surrounding states of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and New York all received favorable ratings from the group. Unlike these states, Pennsylvania does not prohibit licensed junior drivers and those with learner's permits from using electronic devices, nor does it limit the number of teen passengers.
Pennsylvania legislators from rural areas argue that the lack of public transit in non-urban areas means that the passenger restriction would unduly affect their constituents. They also want the use of cell phones to be a secondary offense, meaning that a driver could be cited only if involved in an accident or stopped for some other traffic violation. Education, they argue, would be more effective than a ban, and the lack of personnel would make enforcement random or impossible if cell phone use were made a primary offense.
Pennsylvania might consider a system called graduated driver licensing (GDL), which has been shown to be effective in reducing highway accidents, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The system increases driving privileges in stages as beginning drivers gain experience and knowledge. A three-stage GDL has been demonstrated to be most effective. The CDC predicts that about 350,000 injuries could be prevented each year if every state had a strong GDL policy. A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed an overall crash reduction of 10 to 30 percent in states with a GDL system.