Putting the brakes on teen inexperience

By Daily Illini Editorial Board

Last week Illinois saw the passage of new, stricter teen driving requirements in response to a nationwide problem of teenagers being involved in automobile accidents at rates far greater than the general population. This step of caution is in the right direction, despite lingering doubts about funding and enforcement.

Starting in January, all teens will be required to have a learner’s permit for nine months before they can get their full license, up from the current three-month waiting period.

New provisions also include extending the legal age for talking on a cell phone while driving to 19 from 18 and lengthening the time teens have to wait to carry more than one other passenger (excluding relatives) in the car.

The goal, proponents say, is to cut down on the leading cause of death among American teens. According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, teens between the ages of 15 and 20 were involved in more than 7,000 fatal crashes in 2005.

Most teens in Illinois take driver’s education in their high schools with dedicated instructors. In addition to classroom instruction on the traffic code and other rules of the road, all students were required to complete six hours behind the wheel with the teacher. However, before this law’s passage, schools got around this by using those familiar exercises with traffic cones and parking lots. Illinois will now require the six hours to be completed in real traffic conditions.

The other main requirement for teens, 50 hours driving with a parent, remains the same. While that rule has always been, and will always remain a matter of trust between parents, teens and the state, we believe that nine-month grace period will allow all teens the chance to get a true 50 hours or more of experience while taking the focus off that 90-day mad dash in place now.

Of course, the key to the success of these laws is enforcement. While it is impossible for police to monitor every teen’s driving habits, sending a message early that distracted and reckless driving will not be tolerated will have a ripple effect through Illinois’ high schools.

Despite the expected groans from 15-year-olds across the state, most will eventually reap the benefits of these new standards.

The idea of these laws is to establish standards for acceptable behavior. There are going to be scofflaws, but the hope is that if safe and responsible driving is made the norm among teenagers rather than the exception, citizens of all ages will have the opportunity to feel the wind in their hair for the rest of their lives.