Senators leave teen lives at risk

By Staff
The Montgomery Advertiser
Alabamians should expect their legislators to be divided over such issues as gambling and tax reform. But the public also should expect that lawmakers could at least get together on proposed legislation to save the lives of Alabama teenagers.
Apparently that would be expecting too much of many legislators.
Saving lives of teens appears to be important to a majority of House members. But it also appears to be unimportant to a majority of senators, who have killed legislation to strengthen the state's Graduated Drivers License law for several years running.
And it looks as if the Senate is going to do it again this year.
Of course, it is oversimplifying the issue somewhat to write that House members support saving young lives and that state senators oppose doing so.
But when the House consistently passes the legislation only to see the Senate let it die, the point is worth making.
Nationally, more teenagers are killed in car crashes than from any other cause of death. Alabama has the second-highest death rate for teen drivers and passengers.
Many other states have shown that an effective way to lower the highway death rate for teens is to impose tough restrictions on new teen drivers by adopting Graduated Drivers Licenses.
Alabama has such a license, but the restrictions fall far short of national recommendations.
For the past three years the House of Representatives has passed bills that would have strengthened the state's weak graduated driver's license law. But the Senate never approved the bills, and the carnage on the state's highways has continued.
Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Autauga, is nothing if not persistent. He introduced his graduated license law again, and again the House has passed it — this year by a vote of 97-0.
But the legislation is languishing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Gipson's bill would require that all 16-year-old drivers and new 17-year-old drivers be off the road by 10 p.m. on week nights and 11 p.m. on weekends, with a few exceptions such as going to and from school events and a job.
It would bar young drivers from talking on cell phones while driving, and limit the number of teen passengers who could be in a vehicle with them.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 16-year-old drivers have crash rates about three times greater than 17-year-old drivers, five times greater than 18-year-old drivers, and about twice the rate of 85-year-old drivers.
A gaping loophole in the existing Alabama law is that it allows up to four teens in a vehicle with a driver with a graduated license.
The House-passed bill would limit passengers with a young driver to no more than one, with the exception of parents or family members.
That is an important provision, because studies have shown that multiple young passengers are a major distraction for young, inexperienced drivers.
Members of the Alabama House repeatedly have shown they care about protecting young lives.
It is long overdue for the Alabama Senate to show the same concern.

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