New laws crack down on teen driversWhat are two of the highest risk situations for teen drivers? Cell phones and texting? Or maybe, changing a CD player?
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
What are two of the highest risk situations for teen drivers?
Cell phones and texting? Or maybe, changing a CD player?
Although both are cumbersome – and dangerous – to do while driving, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (MDPS) deems driving late at night and carrying multiple teen passengers as two of the most high-risk situations, especially for new drivers.
Two new laws went into effect Friday, August 1, to help newly-licensed teens hone their driving skills – at least during the first year after they receive their driver’s license.
The first law prohibits new drivers – during the first six months of receiving their license – from driving between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.
However, there are exceptions. Teens can drive during those hours if they are accompanied by a licensed driver who is 25 years of age or older; are driving between their home and place of employment; for employment purposes; or to and from home and a school event for which the school has not provided transportation.
Mile for mile, 16 and 17 year olds are about three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash at night than during the day, according to MDPS.
The second law deals with passenger limitations.
During the first six months of licensure, only one passenger younger than the age of 20 – unless accompanied by a parent or guardian – can be in the vehicle while a new driver is behind the wheel.
During the second six months, new drivers are limited to no more than three passengers younger than the age of 20 – unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.
An exception allows passengers younger than the age of 20 who are members of the immediate family to be in the vehicle at any time.
In the last three years in Minnesota, 41 percent of teen passengers killed in traffic crashes were in vehicles driven by 16 and 17 year olds, according to MDPS statistics.
Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels said the goal of the new laws is to implement safety.
“The goal is good,” said the chief. “It’s the implementation that might be hard. Unfortunately, we can’t just randomly pull over teen drivers.”
He explained that the new laws are not primary laws where officers can pull over a driver for a specific offense.
“It’s going to take a moving violation or something worse, like an accident,” Wyffels stated. “The laws are OK. The frustration is over enforcement.”
Wyffels said his officers will enforce the new teen driving laws as best they can.
He also noted, however, that the burden with implementation and enforcement may actually need to be on parents.
Parents, he said, need to talk to their teenage drivers about safe driving practices.
“If they [parents] need to lean on the fact that these are laws, then so be it,” said Wyffels. “Sometimes parents need other authority and that’s OK.”
The new laws also apply to teens licensed before August 1 of this year. If a teen was licensed, say on July 1, he/she would have the nighttime limitation for five months beginning on August 1, the one passenger limitation for five months and the three-passenger limitation for six months.
Violation of these laws is considered a misdemeanor offense.
Minnesota Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen, who is a retired Douglas County sheriff, said, “I hope these laws bring attention to the challenges that face new drivers, while giving Minnesota youth some more learning behind the wheel without distractions.”
Minnesota has been reported as one of the most dangerous states for teens on the road, with about 80 annual fatalities and 6,000 injuries, according to MDPS.
Other MDPS facts (for the years 2005 to 2007) include:
• Minnesota 16- and 17-year-old drivers were involved in 116 fatal crashes, resulting in 133 traffic deaths and 525 serious injuries.
• In 64 percent of the 116 fatal crashes, passengers were present in the 16- and 17-year-old drivers’ vehicles.
• Of the 133 traffic deaths, 50 of the victims were 16- and 17-year-old drivers. At least 23 – or 46 percent – of those drivers were not wearing seat belts.
• Of the 525 motorists seriously injured, 179 victims were the 16- and 17-year-old drivers. At least 56 – or 31 percent – of those drivers were not wearing their seat belts.