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Long list of data supports need for graduated driver’s license bill

Rep. Kim Norton
Rep. Kim Norton

The headline on Eric Black’s May 2 MinnPost article read: “How you’ve been misled on teen driving fatalities.” After reading Mr. Black’s article, we had a good conversation about the issue and shared our concerns over the misleading statistic referenced in his article. I want to thank Mr. Black for bringing attention to this issue, and for reminding Minnesotans just how important our Graduated Drivers License (GDL) legislation really is.

Still, after receiving an email from a reader who was upset that the Legislature passed the GDL bill (HF 2628) based on incorrect information, I felt I should respond.

Like many newspapers and major media venues throughout the state, the GDL debate on the House floor fell victim to a widely misunderstood statistic about Minnesota’s teen driving deaths. During debate on the House floor I said, “No state in the country has a higher percentage of teenagers behind the wheel in deadly crashes than Minnesota.” This information came in a letter from AAA quoting a recent news article in which the Star Tribune cited a U.S. Department of Transportation 2004-2006 study. The article goes on to state that teens were involved in 18.4 percent of fatal traffic accidents in our state; the national average was 14.3 percent.

Black pointed out that while the percentage of teen traffic fatalities is high in Minnesota when compared to that of other states, Minnesota’s teen death rate is not.

Many troubling statistics on teens
I will not argue that the information in Mr. Black’s article is anything but correct, and I regret any misinterpretation of this important information. But I feel it is necessary for Minnesotans to understand just how many troubling statistics created the impetus for this important piece of legislation — data we can all agree makes the case for a new GDL standard in our state. When making the laws that govern our state, it is absolutely essential that policymakers stick to the facts.

Note the following Minnesota and national data:

• Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for a Minnesota teen. (Minnesota Department of Health, Center of Health Statistics 1999-2003; MnDOT 2001-2005).

• Motor-vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for 36 percent of all deaths in this age group. In 2005, 4,544 teens ages 16 to 19 — an average of 12 a day — died in motor-vehicle crashes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 28, 2008).

• Drivers aged 16-17 with two or more passengers are twice as likely to be involved in a fatal crash, and 1.5 times more likely to be involved in an injury crash than adult drivers with the same passenger load (Minnesota Department of Public Safety (PDF), 2007).

• 62 percent of teenage passenger deaths in the United States in 2006 occurred in vehicles driven by another teenager. Among deaths of passengers of all ages, 20 percent occurred when a teenager was driving (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2006).

• Teens represent 7.5 percent of the licensed drivers, but 15 percent of crash-involved drivers (MnDOT, 2001-2005).

• Distracted driving was a factor in 25 percent of teen drive crashes, but only 16 percent for all other age groups (MnDOT 2001-2005).

• Per miles driven, the crash involvement rate of Minnesota 16- to 17-year-old drivers was three times that of adult drivers (24-59) and the fatal crash involvement rate was 4.5 times that of adult drivers (Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 2007).

• Per miles driven, the nighttime (10 p.m. to 5 a.m.) injury crash-involvement rate for 16- to 17-year-old drivers is nearly four times that of adult drivers (Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 2007).

• In 2004 the number of MN crash deaths by age group demonstrates the highest number (78) for 15- to 19-year-olds, followed closely (71) by 20- to 24-year-olds — the next closest number (42) was for 25- to 29-year-olds with somewhat similar numbers for other age brackets studies (2005 Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety).

• Only 4 states (Minnesota, North Dakota, Kansas, Arkansas) do not have some form of GDL — either night restrictions, passenger limitations or, most common, both (AAA).

• The most comprehensive GDL programs are associated with reductions of 38% for fatal crashes and 40% for injury crashes of 16-year old drivers. “Research has shown that the most comprehensive GDL systems are associated with motor-vehicle crash reductions of up to 40%” (CDC, Apr. 29, 2008).

Additional information regarding teen driving deaths in Minnesota and nationwide, can be found online:

• Minnesota Department of Public Safety: “Teens Behind the Wheel”

• Minnesota DPS Office of Traffic Safety CODES Project

• The Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Teen Drivers

• The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: Fatality Facts 2006/Teenagers

Six more months to become mature drivers
The GDL bill passed by the Minnesota House will save the lives of teenagers in every corner of Minnesota. By putting this standard in law, we can give our young drivers six more months to become more mature drivers, capable of driving responsibly. Specifically, the bill would require the following for rookie drivers:

• For the first six months, only one passenger under the age of 20 (who is not a family member) would be allowed in the vehicle;

• For the second six months, up to three nonfamily passengers would be allowed in the vehicle;

• Hours of driving for provisional license holders would be restricted between midnight and 5 a.m., except to drive to work, school, or with a licensed driver over the age of 25.

As noted above, 46 other states have enacted such standards. Of those 46 states, those with the most comprehensive programs (similar to that proposed in Minnesota’s GDL standard) have seen up to a 40 percent drop in motor vehicle crashes resulting in injuries for 16-year-old drivers.

An initiative that will prevent or diminish teen driving accidents in Minnesota is worth it. But an effort proven to reduce accidents for teenage drivers by up to 40 percent is absolutely imperative.

I am very pleased both bodies of the Legislature passed this bill, and hopeful that Gov. Tim Pawlenty will sign it into law this year. Aside from one misunderstood statistic, the facts speak for themselves: Our children die when there are more kids and more distractions in the car. A GDL standard in Minnesota will prevent such unnecessary, tragic deaths, and give our kids the tools to become better drivers.

I encourage readers to contact me with questions or concerns on this important issue. You can reach me by phone at (651) 296-9249 or by email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, represents District 29B in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

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