State hopes teen driving law will help save lives

Monday, August 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. – State officials hope a new law meant to ease Oklahoma teens into the responsibility of driving will reduce the number of crashes involving teens, just as they say similar laws have done in more than 30 other states.

The Graduated Driver Licensing Act is set to take effect Tuesday. It forces teens who have not completed a driving course to wait six months longer than they now do to get unrestricted licenses.

The law is an attempt by the insurance industry and Legislators to give Oklahoma teens more supervised experience behind the wheel before they are allowed to drive alone, officials said.

"The best way to become a good driver is to gain experience behind the wheel," said AAA Oklahoma spokesman Chuck Mai, a supporter of the new law.

The act prohibits 15-year-olds from driving with anyone except a driver's education instructor.

At age 15 ½, students in driver's education can get a learner's permit, but only for driving during daylight hours with a licensed driver 21 years old or older.

At 16, those who have not taken driver's ed can be licensed to drive during daylight hours but only to and from school, work or church at night. They can have no more than one passenger.

Those who are 16 can receive an unrestricted license after completing a driver's education course and passing the state driving test. Those who haven't completed a course are eligible for an unrestricted license at age 16 ½, if they've had a restricted license for at least 30 days and haven't gotten any traffic tickets.

Teens who have not had a restricted license and who haven't completed a driver's education course must wait until age 17 before they can receive an unrestricted license.

The law is meant to fight the numbers that show a teen's first year of driving can be the most dangerous. According to statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the crash rate per mile driven is almost three times as high among 16-year-olds as it is among 18- and 19-year-olds.

The new law takes into consideration that not all school districts offer the same access to driver's education programs. Mr. Mai said students who go to schools where driver's education isn't offered can be taught by their parents or accredited private instructors.