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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
Attorney • (877) 377-7848

Know the Laws Before You Go, Especially for Teen Drivers

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Every year thousands of teens die in traffic accidents—often as a result of the teenage driver’s excessive speed, lack of experience, or inattention. They are not only inexperienced, but their immaturity makes them more likely to take risks behind the wheel. Their risk of an accident are 3.6 times higher when there are passengers in the car. Additionally, the per mile crash rate for teenage drivers is 3 times higher after 9:00 p.m. because of the challenges of night driving.

Ten southeast Michigan teens were injured, three of them critically, in an early rollover accident on their way home from Cedar Point. The 17-year-old driver of a 2003 Chevrolet Express Van was attempting to switch seats with the front seat passenger, while the vehicle was traveling down I-75. While doing so, she lost control, causing the van to go off the left side of the roadway and into the median. The vehicle then rolled several times, ejecting two passengers. The accident occurred around 1:15 a.m. near Northwood, Ohio. The driver, front seat passenger, and one rear passenger were those critically injured. The other seven passengers, ranging from ages 15-17, suffered minor injuries. The crash remains under investigation.

While this crash is yet another reminder of the dangers of risky behavior while driving, it brings up another concern – variation in Driver Permit and Graduated Driver License laws from state-to-state.

Although there are national laws on seat belts and the minimum drinking age, there are none that regulate licensing requirements for teens.

In Wyoming, for example, 14-year-old drivers are eligible to hold a driver’s permit, while in Colorado, prospective teen drivers must wait until reaching 15. New York requires teens to wait until they are 16. Today all states have at least some elements of graduated licensing, but again there is no uniformity among the states. All drivers must follow the laws of the state in which they are driving. It does not matter whether you are a resident or not. While you may think traveling on vacation is a good time for your teen to gain driving experience, their learners permit may not apply in other states. Furthermore, they must adhere to the graduated licensing laws in the state in which they are driving.

By way of example, in the state of Michigan, when a teen turns 17, he/she is automatically issued a Level 3 license (unless a parent requests otherwise in writing) provided that the teen has driven under a Level 2 license for at least six months, has been violation and suspension free, and has had no at-fault crashes for at least 12 consecutive months. All nighttime and passenger driving restrictions are lifted once the teen receives the Level 3 license. Therefore, the driver in the above case was driving in accordance with the law of the state in which she resides.

In Ohio, where the accident occurred, however, the teens were not in compliance with the laws. The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles prohibits people under 18- years-old from operating a vehicle from 1 a.m.-5 a.m. unless accompanied by a parent or guardian or driving to/from work.

Graduated Driver Licensing systems are proven to reduce crashes involving teen drivers by as much as 40 percent, according to the National Safety Council. These systems help maximize teens’ driving experience while minimizing common crash risks such as passenger distraction, nighttime driving and cell phone use.

In April 2009, the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act (STANDUP) was introduced to establish minimum federal requirements for state GDL laws. There would be a 3-stage licensing process (learner’s permit and intermediate stages before unrestricted driver’s license granted starting at age 18). Components of the STANDUP Act included:

  • Age 16 would be the earliest age for entry into the learner’s permit process.
  • Nighttime driving while unsupervised would be restricted during the learner’s permit and intermediate stages, until full licensure.
  • Driving while using communication devices (cell phone calls, texting) would be prohibited at least until full licensure.
  • Passengers would be restricted – no more than one non-familial passenger under age 21 unless a licensed driver over age 21 is in the vehicle – until full licensure.
  • Unrestricted, full licensure would occur no earlier than age 18.

Unfortunately, the bill failed to make it through Congress in 2009 and then, again in 2011. So, where do we go from here? Until there is a uniform system, it is important to know the driving laws of the state you live in, and check the laws each time you move or decide to travel through another state. You can check the state’s driver permit requirements online, or call ahead and talk with someone from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Sheriff’s Department, or Highway Patrol.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.