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Graduated driver licensing effective, officials say

IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY — Nearly two years have passed since the Iowa Legislature passed laws restricting teenage drivers.

Graduated driver licensing laws changed the regulations for teen drivers by creating instructional and intermediate permits.

Scott Falb, traffic safety specialist with the Department of Transportation, said the law primarily changed the first year of driving for teenage drivers.

To move from the instructional to intermediate permit, students must fulfill certain guidelines.

“Parents are required to drive with their student driver for a minimum of 20 hours, at least two of which are [in the] evening,” Falb said.

When a student completes the required hours, he or she can receive their intermediate license.

“[Sixteen-year-olds] are restricted from midnight to 5 a.m.,” Falb said. “They can only drive during those hours with a licensed adult.”

Falb said the times with highest crash rates were right after school, right before school and between 11 p.m. and midnight.

“In essence, a 16-year-old with a license is on probation for one year,” Falb said. “They have to be ticket-free or traffic-crash free where they have some culpability.”

Under this system, a student can receive a full license at the age of 17, provided that they have had no violations.

However, a single violation restarts the year-long probation again from day one, Falb said.

“If they went six months into their intermediate licensing and then got a speeding ticket or had a traffic crash for which they had some blame, they would start that probation all over again,” Falb said.

Graduated driver licensing laws targeting teenagers were prompted after research showed teens to be the highest accident-prone group.

“When we look at 1995 data, the data we used when the legislature was debating this bill,” Falb said. “Sixteen-year-olds had a crash rate of about 2,000 per 10,000 drivers, whereas 20-year-olds had about 1.089 crashes per 10,000 drivers and 45- to 54-year-olds had a crash rate of about 450 some crashes per 10,000 licensed drivers.”

The difference in crash rates among various age groups showed that young drivers were among the most dangerous on the road.

“They are more vulnerable for car accidents and speeding at that age, and I hope that the thought of penalties is a deterrent,” said Rep. Barbara Finch, R-Ames.

Since the legislation, statistics show there have been fewer accidents among those in the higher-risk age groups.

“The data for 1999 shows that we have had a 10 percent reduction in car crashes for 16-year-old drivers and a 20 percent reduction in traffic violations,” Falb said.

Falb said during 1999 there were some drivers who had received their licenses prior to the changes in the law, so they already had a regular license. The year 2000 was the first time all 16-year-olds were under the graduated driver’s license law.

Falb said he expects this change to lead to a decrease of traffic crashes and citations.

Sen. Johnie Hammond, D-Ames, said the law has had no problems in terms of popularity.

“I have not had any complaints from teens and parents,” she said. “When we were considering it, there was a lot of concern, but from July 1, 1999 to July 1, 2001, I have not had a single complaint.”

Hammond said she has changed her mind after watching the new system for two years.

“I voted against it thinking it was unnecessarily complicated,” she said. “Now that it has worked for two years and no one seems to be troubled by it, I would be willing to vote for it with ease.”

She said the law makes teens think about the consequences of misbehaving behind the wheel.

“I do think there were concerns that there was a higher accident rate and they needed a little more phasing in and a little more experience,” Hammond said. “It may be a deterrent to reckless driving.”

Copyright Iowa State Daily