Watson’s Teen Driving Safety Bill Heads to Governor
HARRISBURG – An effort to enhance the safety of Pennsylvania’s roads and highways by improving the state’s graduated driver’s license law (GDL) is one step away from being signed by the governor, said Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks/144th), author of the proposal and a long-time advocate for highway safety. The measure, House Bill 9, passed the House today and goes to the governor for his signature.

“This legislation addresses many of the key strategies needed to reduce serious highway crashes,” said Watson, chairman of the House Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Highway Safety. “This proposal seeks to reduce distractions for teen drivers, keep passengers safe and give junior drivers expanded behind-the-wheel training. It represents a coordinated effort to see that our teens are safe on the highway; that parents are given the support they need and the tools they need to keep teens, their passengers and other motorists safe.”

Earlier this year, PennDOT announced that in 2010, fatalities in crashes involving a 16- or 17-year-old driver increased 43 percent. Vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for teenagers.

According to statistics from Pennsylvania AAA, the chances a 16-year-old will die in a crash increase 39 percent with one teen passenger; 86 percent with two teen passengers; and 182 percent with three or more teen passengers. Consequently, numerous studies have shown lower teen crash rates after implementing a passenger restriction for teen drivers.

More than half of teen driver and passenger deaths are the direct result of failure to buckle up.

House Bill 9’s main focus is to reduce the distractions from passengers of teen drivers holding a junior driver’s license. Junior drivers, those between the ages of 16 ½ and 18, are permitted to transport only one other passenger under the age of 18 for the first six months after the junior driver has been licensed. Exemptions apply for family members and if a parent or legal guardian are also in the vehicle.

After the first six months, Watson said, the legislation restricts the number of passengers to three non-family members under age 18 if the driver has driven without incident, unless family or with a parent or guardian.

Numerous studies have shown lower teen crash rates after implementing a passenger restriction for teen drivers.

Another provision of House Bill 9 requires all drivers and passengers under the age of 18 must be buckled up or properly restrained in a child safety or booster seat. Failure to do so would be a primary offense, meaning that police can pull over a vehicle if an officer suspects someone is not wearing a seatbelt or properly restrained. This is currently a secondary offense in the state’s vehicle code.

The legislation also increases behind-the-wheel training for permit holders from 50 hours to 65 hours. Ten of these hours must be logged after dark, and five must be logged during inclement weather.

“For the hundreds of thousands of parents of teen drivers – or soon-to-be young drivers – this bill offers a way to help keep their teenagers safe,” Watson said. “For the first time, this bill backs up in law parents who say that for the first six months of having a license, the teen driver can’t take a carload of friends to the pizzeria after a football game.

“This bill allows a police officer – for the first time – to pull over a teen driver if the officer sees the driver – or any passenger he or she believes to be under the age of 18 – isn’t buckled up,” Watson continued.

According to a poll commissioned by Allstate Insurance earlier this year, nearly one in two of those responding to the poll – or 49 percent – believe accidents from distracted drivers is the single biggest threat to public safety on our roads and highways today, far ahead of any other issue tested like drunk driving, speeding or increased motorists and truck traffic.

Watson did express a concern about law enforcement being able to properly enforce the passenger limit during the first six months of licensure.

“I am pleased this legislation contains a one-passenger limit for teens during their first six months of being licensed; I have concern that police officers may not be able to determine, just from seeing a car with a teen driver go past, how long that driver has had his or her license,” Watson said. “However, I am reassured that the Senate’s addition of a biannual report on how the implementation of this legislation is working will provide good statistical information to tell us if revisions need to be made.

“Pennsylvanians are clearly concerned about the kinds of things our legislation seeks to address, including limiting the number of teen passengers to a vehicle as a way to improve a teen driver’s concentration and focus when behind the wheel,” Watson said. “I am pleased this legislation is moving to the governor’s desk, and I thank all of my colleagues for their support in advancing this very important public safety bill.”

Once signed in the House and Senate, the governor has 10 days to sign the legislation into law.

State Representative Kathy Watson
144th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Contact: Jennifer Keaton 
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