Oklahoma City - Since 16-year old drivers are twice as likely to die in auto accidents, getting that laminated ticket to driving freedom may be a learning process rather than a one-day event for Oklahoma teenagers, according to Senators Keith Leftwich and Robert Milacek.
The two Senators, along with State Representatives Wallace Collins, Betty Boyd and Curt Roggow, have introduced a bill that would provide Oklahoma with a Graduated Driver Licensing program.
The program creates a 2-year stepping stone path for Oklahoma teens before they are turned out on Oklahoma roads. Under current law, any Oklahoman can take the test to obtain a state driver's license at age 16. Upon passing this test, the young driver gets so-called "free-reign" of the roads.
The graduated system proposed by legislators will allow young drivers to test the water before being required to sink or swim.
"Our current driver licensing system doesn't give any guidance," Senator Leftwich said. "It just throws our new drivers into the pond without a lifeline. By making this a process and not a single-day event, we can cultivate a young driver and gradually guide them in the responsibilities of safely operating a vehicle."
Under this proposal, at age 15, a student may drive, but only with their driver's education teacher seated next to them. At 15 ½ , as under current law, any young person may take the written learner's permit test.
"This bill strikes close to home with me," said Senator Milacek. "I have seen the repercussions of a new driver's mistakes, and this system provides a way to curb the trend of high-risk young driving behavior."
Teenagers who have not completed driver's ed can get a restricted license at 16, but will only be allowed to carry one other teenaged passenger in their car. Nighttime driving will be restricted to school, work and church only.
This stipulation is designed to curb some startling statistics. New 16-year old drivers are twice as likely to die in an accident during their first year driving. Some of the most tragic accidents occur when there are 6 or 8 teenagers riding in the car of a new driver.
If a young driver does not take driver's education training, they will not be able to apply for an unrestricted license on their 16th birthday. They will have a six-month trial period, after which an unrestricted license may be issued if the driver has no accidents or tickets.
According to Chuck Mai, of Oklahoma AAA, this program would benefit both the new driver and the other people on the road.
"GDL buys time by easing the driver into low-risk driving practices in the beginning," said Mai. "It allows time to gain experience and learn the rules of the road in a lower risk environment."
Twenty-six states have adopted similar systems to ease drivers onto our nation's roadways. According to Mai, twelve other states have or will introduce graduated driver licensing this year.
"More than 25% of 16 year-olds have a crash or receive a ticket in their first year of driving," said Mai. "They are very overrepresented on the crash charts. Statistics show that teenagers make up more than 6% of all licensed drivers, but they account for 15% of all traffic fatalities."
This program would provide peace of mind to both parents of young drivers as well as the other drivers in Oklahoma.
"These statistics show us that something needs to be done to drive these numbers down," said Leftwich. "The GDL program offers supervised, gradual training so that our new Oklahoma drivers have the opportunity to both learn and live before the state grants them total freedom on the road."- 30 -