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Teen Driving Legislation

Crackdown on Unsafe Youth Driving

Del. William A. Bronrott (D)
Montgomery County
Friday, January 28, 2005; 2:00 PM

Nationwide, more than 6,000 teens die in motor vehicle crashes each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Washington area has had a spate of youth driving fatalities recently, with 17 dead since September, the beginning of the school year.

Del. William A. Bronrott (D) was online Friday, Jan. 28, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss proposed legislation to address the teen driving problem. Read the story:Ehrlich Targets Teen Road Fatalities (Post, Jan. 14)

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


William Bronrott: Thanks very much for participating in this online discussion about teen driver safety. It's interesting to note that last week the Governor sent his budget to the General Assembly, and by the end of this legislative session in April we must pass a balanced budget. What most people do not realize is that each year in Maryland we lose $4 Billion in costs related to all highway crashes: deaths, injuries, and property damage. That comes down to $800 per man, woman and child and $3,500 per average family every year. A large percentage of this "Crash Tax" relates to teen driving. These are just the economic costs. There's also the human cost which I am sure will be the focus of our conversation this hour. I look forward to your questions.


Washington, D.C.: While I applaud the actions currently being taken to curb the problem of teen driving deaths, why hasn't there been any serious talk about raising the driving age to 17 or 18? Wouldn't that reduce the number of deaths more than anything else? And aside from teenagers, don't you think there'd be an overwhelming amount of support for such a move?

William Bronrott: Most people are surprised to learn that the legal driving age in Maryland is 18. Yes, 18. It is only with written parental approval that a teen under age 18 can pursue a driver's license. So, it's up to you as a parent to decide. You have the power. In addition, since 1999 the state of Maryland has had a Graduated Driver's Licensing law that phases in the full driving privilege. Instead of going directly from learner's permit to full license, there is an 18-month provisional or probationary period that the teen driver must pass through infraction-free. It is a system that has helped to save lives, but we also know that additional legislative remedies area needed to fill in the gaps in our current law. More about that later. Thanks.


Lorton, Va.: In Virginia, lawmakers are trying to crack down on bad teenage driving habits. One of which is to fine teens who are caught driving while talking on their cell phones. My question is what if these teens are wearing hands-free headsets? And if this restriction on teens becomes enacted, I would foresee a proposal like D.C. where everyone must wear headsets.

William Bronrott: The Virginia Senate Transportation Committee recently approved legislation which I believe is identical to a bill that I introduced in the Maryland House of Delegates today. My bill would prohibit ANY cell phone use by a teen driver with a learner's permit or provisional license except when dialing the 9-1-1 emergency line. The DC law allows cell phone use by licensed drivers of any age, but only with a hands-free device attached. A "hands-free only" bill for drivers age 18+ is being considered again this year in the MD General Assembly.


Southern Maryland Mom: How timely, can't wait for this discussion to get started today. Changes are definitely needed whether we raise the age teens are when they get a learners permit, how long they need to retain it before getting their license, limiting the number of other (non-family) passengers in the car, imposing penalties for not wearing seat belts and for staying out past curfew are all good starts. And most importantly teens who drink and drive (and in many cases, kill others) need severe punishment.

Let's roll with this chat ...

William Bronrott: Thanks for your interest in today's online discussion. If you stop and look at the causes of many teen crashes -- immaturity, inexperience, inattention, impairment, and a false sense of invincibility -- I say that these crashes are not just accidents or someone's bad luck or fate. They are almost predictable, and therefore I believe they are largely preventable starting with strong parental guidance and effective laws that are enforced.


Sandy Spring, Md.: My daughter starts Driver Ed in April. This issue is timely for us. Some states forbid new teen drivers to carry non-related passengers in their car during the probationary period or early stages of GDL. NHTSA statistics show that more teen accidents happen when groups of friends (not relatives) ride together with a new teen driver.

I understand Maryland does not have this provision. How can we make our lawmakers take a series look at adding it to the Graduated Driver Licensing steps in Maryland? Is that part of what is currently being discussed? What considerations might prevent it's becoming law?

Our children are irreplaceable. Thank you.

William Bronrott: I am glad you raised the issue of teen passengers. Among the three teen driver safety bills introduced today in the House of Delegates was one authored by Delegate Adrienne Mandel that would prohibit non-family teen passengers during the first six months of the 18 month provisional driving period. The National Transportation Safety Board, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and virtually every highway safety advocacy group supports this legislation because studies show that with each additional passenger, the chance of a fatal crash rises dramatically.


Silver Spring, Md.: Isn't the proliferation of young drivers in luxury/custom cars part of the problem as well? I know that parents should be able to drive what car they want to drive, but should the youngsters also get to drive the Lexus or the BMW. When are parents going to realize that kids want to be seen in nice cars for status? That would explain five or six kids in a brand new SUV as opposed to the "outcast" who is "stuck" with a Ford Escort. There is common sense in this argument: kids want to drive but not always for the right reasons. Parents have to know better and, well, BE PARENTS. When I was learning to drive, my mother bought a brand new car that I was not allowed to drive. I was "stuck" with the clunker that she purchased for me. It had no A/C, a terrible radio and none of my friends or girlfriends wanted to be seen in it. But, I survived with that car through college. Not a bad idea for some of the state's young drivers.

William Bronrott: Your "first car" experience sounds eerily similar to mine growing up in Silver Spring! You make a great point. Too many parents are handing over the keys to SUVs which have a high center of gravity and are inherently unsafe especially in the hands of our least experienced, typically highest risk taking drivers. A standard sedan packed with the latest vehicle safety features would be the better choice indeed.


Bethesda, Md.: Haven't most of the recent high-profile teen accidents involved violations of laws already on the books and aimed at teen drivers? Why should we think that adding more laws is going to improve the situation?

William Bronrott: The recent rash of teen fatalities were caused by a variety of factors. Some relate to current law and some would be addressed by passage of the three bills that we introduced in the Maryland House today. Just so that every knows what our three bills would do, they would (1) prohibit non-related teen passengers during the first six months of the 18 month provisional driving period, (2) ban cell phone use by teen drivers with learner's permits and provisional licenses, and (3) increase the number of required parent-supervised driving hours during the learner's permit period from 40 to 60 hours, including 10 hours at night. Together, these laws will help remove some of the potentially deadly distractions from cars and at the same time give our teens more behind the wheel experience.


Crownsville, Md.: What hurdles do you anticipate in getting these bills turned into law. It all seems like a good idea, but right now, we in Maryland, as in Washington, have a very divided government. Can you count on Ehrlich for support?

William Bronrott: As I often say: Dying on our highways is not a partisan experience. Nor should be the steps we take to address this major public health and safety problem. I am very pleased to report that our package of three teen driver safety bills is bridging political lines and geographic lines. More than half of the Maryland House -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- are co-sponsoring each of these three bills. An all too infrequent experience here in Annapolis!


Silver Spring, Md.: While it is tragic that teens are hurt or killed in traffic incidence, I wish more attention was paid to the numerous and frequent examples of adults driving poorly. Also, practice makes perfect. So, let's require that the adults responsible for teaching teens to drive (driving schools and parents) give our teens more time behind the wheel. Forty hours is a pittance.

William Bronrott: I agree that 40 hours is a mere pittance. The National Transportation Safety Board and others say 50 should be the minimum. As I mentioned earlier, one of our new bills would require at last 60 hours.


Columbia, S.C.: Let me preface this by saying that I realize I am not about to address the root of the problem. That said, it strikes me that a lot of this could be helped along if insurance companies included a rider stipulating no payout in the event that the insured was not wearing a seat belt. It would certainly help reduce rates, and anyone who continued to refrain from wearing a belt would do so fully aware of the folly of their action. Is this too drastic an option?

William Bronrott: You raise a good question. It gets a bit tricky sometimes in crash reconstruction to prove whether or not the injured occupant was buckled up or not. Clearly, we must raise our seat belt use rate in Maryland and every state, especially among teens and young adults. One of the three teen driving bills introduced by our Governor last week calls for a 90-day license suspension of any provisional driver found operating a motor vehicle unbuckled. Makes sense to me.


Silver Spring, Md.: My parents didn't permit me to drive until I was 18. I lived, and I was quite resourceful (buses, walking, asking my folks).

My kids are being raised with the "No driver's license until you are 18, and then 6 months of driving with me and/or your father in the car". They'll live too.

I've invested too much love & time in them to send them on their way with a pat on the head and a fast car. Uh-uh. It's called PARENTING.

William Bronrott: Excellent point that I hope more parents will consider. Again, the driving age is 18 in Maryland unless a parent signs the form permitting their under age 18 teen to go for their learner's and provisional permits.


Rockville, Md.: In Japan, all new drivers are required to have a bumper sticker on their vehicle depicting a green leaf. One potential benefit is that it would make teens on a graduated licensure program easily identifiable and would help police to identify vehicles in which a teen is violating part of the graduated licensure requirements. Has Anyone in Maryland proposed identifying teens in this way?

William Bronrott: The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration has had a "Rookie Driver" program featuring a magnetic bumper sticker that can travel from car to car with the practicing teen driver. You might be able to get more info at: Maryland Department of Transportation


Washington, D.C.: Hello,

This is the type of thing that really gets under my skin. Here comes the issue with teenagers driving and dying ... across the nation. And, now it's a front page issue ... legislation and laws are being processed and pushed to save the "teenagers."

However, teenagers, guns and death ... were and still are a major issue here in DC. ... but yet we don't see front page stories of concerns, we don't see politicians such as yourself discussing the issues at hand regarding "teenage" death and guns in D.C.

So what's the difference here? Both are teenagers right? My colleagues want to use the word race ... I am not going to play the race card in fairness ... however most of the teenagers that drive and get killed are white, and most of the teenagers killed by guns are black but again "they are teenagers".

This is where I as an American....I see the deliberate separations of concern in our society. I want to care for these teens dying in car accidents but how can I when I don't see anyone coming forward to fight against the "guns" and the teenage deaths on the streets of D.C.

William Bronrott: Im glad you asked this question. Teens dying violently due to car crashes or gun violence cannot be tolerated by a civil society. We must address both issues, and I have dedicated much of my adult life to doing so in my work in and out of the Maryland General Assembly. I have been very involved in issues related to educational opportunities, drug/alcohol prevention and treatment, gun control, etc. But, overall in Maryland and in the U.S., highway crashes are the number one cause of death and disabling injury of teens. Teens are only 7 percent of licensed drivers but they are involved in 14 percent of fatal crashes. Seat belt use among African-Americans and Hispanics is well below the national average. Having seen too much violence as an observer at Maryland Shock Trauma, I believe we must stay focused on reducing traumatic injury among teens whatever the cause.


Severna Park, Md.: How does a teen driver establish that the required amount of hours were driven. Is a log book kept and submitted?

William Bronrott: Yes, it is my understanding that the parent/guardian and teen driver keep a log book which the parent/guardian must sign and submit when the teen takes the test at MVA.


Silver Spring, Md.: There seems to be a lot of griping in the media about "chauffeuring kids to and from practices/rehearsals/jobs, etc." I know that parents are busy folks, but to blithely throw car keys and gas money at a kid because it will take a burden off of you is a dangerous sentiment. All of these youngsters who were killed have parents at home that would gladly drive them to any event necessary if they could have their child back.

William Bronrott: As my colleague Delegate Mandel has stated more than once: "The opposition comes from people who fear the inconvenience of being parents for an additional six months of their lives. They are talking about inconvenience. We are talking about saving lives." I could not agree more.


William Bronrott: It appears that the hour is winding down. I know that you want and every parent wants to do right thing to protect your children. You devote every minute of every hour to protect them. But, as we start to hand over the keys to our teens, we need to redouble our efforts to protect them from this leading threat to their lives and limbs. Laws and their enforcement can do a lot. But we also depend upon you as parents to lay down the law in your home. I need your help in Annapolis. Please ask your State Senator and State Delegate to support our bills. You can reach them at Maryland General Assembly. I've enjoyed spending the hour with you. Take care. Buckle up. And drive safely.


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