Important legislation now before the D.C. Council needs to move forward when the council returns. If passed, the graduated driver's licensing bill, introduced by Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), will change the way young people in the District obtain their privilege to drive.

At present, a D.C. resident who is 16 and can pass the written and the road test can drive without restriction. Patterson's bill would require instead a graduated licensing system with three phases:

A learner's permit available at age 16 to allow the teenager to drive when accompanied by a licensed driver with no other passenger in the car. Driving would be allowed between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

A provisional license after holding a learner's permit for six months without a traffic violation and having had at least 40 hours of certified driving experience. Application for a provisional license would need to be preceded by 90 days of crash-free driving. The provisional license would allow unsupervised day driving -- with no passengers -- and supervised driving between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

A full license after holding a provisional license for six months and having 12 consecutive months of violation- and crash-free driving. In addition 10 hours of certified nighttime driving would be required.

The bill is tough and may be modified as it moves through the council, but it addresses the most critical causes of teenage driving accidents. A direct connection exists between age and accidents. Teenagers between 16 and 19 have the highest crash rate of all drivers; 16-year-olds are the most crash-prone, followed closely by 17-year-olds. Graduated licensing addresses these tragic realities.

Most crashes involving teenage drivers also occur at night. In states with nighttime driving restrictions -- Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland among them -- the incident of nighttime crashes involving teenage drivers has been reduced by a whopping 40 to 60 percent. Such results should not be ignored. Although the night-driving restrictions may be viewed as harsh by some, their lifesaving potential outweighs any opposition.

Obtaining a drivers license is a major occasion in a young person's life, and it should be. Teenagers undoubtedly will see graduated licensing as a glacial process, and some parents also may feel the nighttime restrictions don't match well with family schedules.

But when I was in college, a friend of mine was struck and killed in Ocean City in front of me by a 16-year-old driver accompanied only by his younger brother. When I think of riding in the ambulance with my friend to the Salisbury hospital, I don't have any trouble with the toughness of Patterson's bill.

-- Ray Browne

is a former Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioner.