Nearly everyone has high school memories of a tragedy involving classmates who were involved in car crashes resulting in personal injury or loss of life. Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch relates his own experience of totaling two family vehicles during his high school years.
Rep. Weyhrauch has introduced House Bill 213, which is intended to reduce the risks to which students under age 21 are exposed as they acquire driving skills and experience.
The Graduated Drivers License (GDL) bill establishes a three-stage system mandating who can and cannot be in the car with a learner, how much supervised driving is required, and extending by one year the length of time needed to qualify for an unrestricted license.
Learners still can qualify for a permit at age 14, but under the new law would advance to the new one-year provisional (restricted) stage at age 16 after logging the requisite six months of supervised driving in the first stage.
The provisional permit requires teens provide proof they've driven for a minimum of 50 hours, including 10 hours of night driving under the supervision of an adult aged 25 or older. Provisional permittees would be prohibited from driving with passengers under the age of 25 for the first six months. They also would not be allowed to drive between midnight and 5 a.m. without a parent or other person 25 years of age or older with them. Some exceptions are allowed.
The provisional driver can acquire an unrestricted license only if he or she has maintained a clean driving record - no citations, no convictions for six months.
Offenders will have to string together an additional six months of good driving in order to qualify for an unrestricted license.
Nationally, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for 15-to-18-year-olds. Factors contributing to the risk are, careless or exhibition driving, driving under the influence, night driving, driving without belt restraints, fatigue and other youthful distractions such as cell phones, mind-numbingly loud music and rowdy passengers.
Alaska drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 have the highest accident rates (15.9 percent) of all age classes and were involved in 3,889 car crashes in 2000.
The next age group of drivers, the 21-to-25-year-olds were involved in another 2,789 crashes.
GDL programs have proven effective. California's GDL program reduced the number of fatal and at-fault injury crashes among 16-year-old drivers by 23 percent in the first year. Teen passenger deaths and injuries in vehicles driven by 16-year olds declined by 40 percent.
GDL programs in Nova Scotia and Ontario have produced similarly dramatic results.
Nationally, there is wide support for GDL programs nationwide from insurance companies, hospitals, legislators, law enforcement, health agencies and parents.
The Juneau chapter of MADD places HB 213 as its top priority this legislative session. The next 16-year-old injured or killed on the highway could be someone close to you. Rep. Weyhrauch's bill will save lives.
As the legislative session enters its final weeks, HB 213 is stranded in the Transportation Committee. Please contact co-chairs Beverly Masek and Jim Holm and ask them to move the bill forward before it's too late for some young driver somewhere on Alaska's highways.