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Friday, December 29, 2006

Illinois Proposes New Laws for Teen Drivers

State Secretary of State Calls for More Stringent Education and Tougher Rules

Under a recently-released proposal for the state of Illinois, state driver education would be updated, and teen drivers would be required to hold their learner's permit three times longer than currently required.

Additionally, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White's draft report from his Teen Driver Safety Task Force would tighten night-driving privileges on 16- and 17-year-olds and permit police to ticket teen passengers who breach teen passenger-limit laws.

White said he hopes to have the proposals introduced as legislation this spring.

"I think it's the kind of thing that will put us all in the same pew," White said. He added that he was receptive to proposed changes from task force associates, who include state senators and representatives, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials, Illinois State Board of Education personnel and victim advocates.

White also acknowledged The Tribune's report that examined teen motor vehicle accidents, the leading cause of death among 13- to 19-year-olds, and which take an average of 5,000 to 6,000 teen lives a year in the U.S. The series "opened my eyes and it opened the eyes of people in my administration and we said, 'We have to do something about it.'"

"The Tribune played an integral role in bringing this about," White said. Yet little was being done to combat the leading cause of death among teenagers, he added.

As the rules of Illinois' Graduated Driver Licensing system stand now, teen drivers who earn their learner's permit must maintain the permit for a period of three months, which is among the shorter grace periods in the country, compared to the national standard in most states of six months. Experts are adamant that a longer learner's permit period lets young drivers log more critical, adult-supervised driving time under various driving conditions.

The secretary’s proposal would extend the learner's permit period to nine months.

The Tribune series on teen driving reported that driver education throughout the U.S. is a hodgepodge of basic programs unchanged from an original system established in 1949. For example, Illinois permits school districts to employ little-known state laws that let public school driver education students take to the road after logging as little as one hour of street driving with an instructor.

The nationwide standard of instructor-supervised street driving is six hours, and experts insist that young drivers require as many as 120 hours of adult-supervised driving to become truly ready to be safe drivers.

The draft report calls for creating "a committee headed by the Illinois State Board of Education to review and update the statewide standards for Illinois' Driver Education."

Another proposed change is a driving curfew of 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends for 16- and 17-year-olds. Existing law sets the weeknight driving curfew at 11 p.m. and the weekend curfew at midnight—both only for 16-year-old drivers. Statistics prove that crash rates for teen drivers soar after 9 p.m.

Another proposal, which would permit police officers to ticket teen passengers who exceed passenger limits in vehicles driven by young drivers, drew concern from state Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro), who heads a mostly-rural region. Current law lets drivers younger than 18 have one passenger younger than 20, immediate family members excepted, during their first six months on the road.

"It's not that child getting this ticket, it's their parents," said Bost, who otherwise was supportive of the draft’s proposals. "And that parent did not make that decision to get in that car for a ride."

Michael Karlin, a task force member whose son Brett was killed in a crash in 2004, felt the draft recommendations "came out better than I ever expected.

"Is it perfect? No," said Karlin. "But I would say this would put Illinois at the top of all the states as far as Graduated Driver Licensing."

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