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Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Should Driving Test For Teens Be Law?
Texas Lawmakers Consider Test for Under-18 Applicants
The Texas House Subcommittee on Teen Driving Safety recently heard from parents whose teens died in tragic accidents and from groups calling for stricter standards for young drivers.
The parents and teen driving safety advocates told lawmakers that they should require teens to pass a driving test before giving them licenses and should increase accountability standards for driver safety courses.
Russell Henk, senior research engineer at the Texas Transportation Institute, said, "Over the past decade, we have lost more teenage lives in car crashes than any other state."
According to the National Highway Safety Administration, about 500 of the 5,000 teens that die every year in car crashes die in accidents that occur in Texas.
El Paso police do not maintain statistics on teen driving accidents, but recently, Andres "Andy" Pacheco, a senior football player at local Ysleta High School, lost control of his car and slammed into a pickup truck and became the latest area teen to perish in a crash.
"Anything that's going to help with experience for the younger drivers would be beneficial," said El Paso police Lt. Michael Gaither.
"This is the No. 1 killer of teens in our nation," Henk said, reminding lawmakers that teen car accidents are a public health crisis. Henk said that reinstituting driving tests for young drivers could help reduce teen crashes. "That's a good, credible check in the system that we don't have" he added.
In 1997, in a cost-saving measure, Texas lawmakers eliminated the driving test requirement for drivers under age 18. Robert Burroughs, assistant chief of the Texas Department of Public Safety driver's license division, said that at the time, most young drivers were passing the test on their first try.
Completing the graduated driver's license program is now mandatory for all young drivers. Despite having the option of taking a driving test, most choose not to.
Would-be drivers can obtain an instructional permit as early as age 15. Before they turn 16 and get a restricted license, they are required to take 30 hours of classroom courses and log 14 hours behind the wheel.
During the first six months they are licensed, they may not drive between midnight and 5 a.m., cannot have more than one passenger younger than 21, and are prohibited from using wireless devices like cell phones.
Youths have the choice of take driving courses from their parents, at school (though few offer the program), or through a commercial program.
Henk urged lawmakers to consider ways to ensure that the classroom and driving hours are completed before a license is issued.
Phil Johnson, who lost his teenage daughter in a car accident last year in North Texas, urged lawmakers to require driving tests and school-based driver education.
"When the question is about protecting our sons and daughters, we will find a way to fund this program," said Johnson.
Suzanne Lozano, who lives in El Paso's Upper Valley, said she's looking forward to the day her 14-year-old daughter can drive.
But she was shocked to discover that her daughter wouldn't have to take a driving test before obtaining her license. "They need that experience," Lozano said. "Absolutely."
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