Viewpoint: New laws for newly licensed teen driversEach year in Minnesota, teens are overrepresented in traffic crashes and deaths.
By: Sgt. Curt Zacharias, Viewpoint Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
Each year in Minnesota, teens are overrepresented in traffic crashes and deaths. In many cases, the reasons for the tragedies are preventable: seatbelt non-use, speeding, and distractions. The greatest underlying factor is inexperience behind the wheel.
New important Minnesota laws went into effect Aug. 1 to help our young drivers develop better driving skills and habits during their first year of licensure. The new laws will help build teen driver experience and reduce their exposure to high-risk situations, specifically carrying teen passengers and driving at night (midnight to 5 a.m.).
These laws make sense. Nearly every state in the country has passenger and nighttime driving limitations for teens and the results have been positive and life-saving.
Motorists behind the wheel face several distractions. For teens, these distractions are compounded by driving immaturity.
The role teen passengers play in a vehicle is significant. Adding just one passenger increases the risk of death by 39 percent for 16 year-old drivers.
In the last three years, 64 percent of fatal crashes involving a teen driver had passengers present in the teen driver’s vehicle.
And while a majority of teen crashes occur before or after school hours, mile for mile 16-and 17-year-olds are about three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash at night than during the day.
The nighttime limitation is lifted after the first six months of licensure and there are exemptions for the law: driving when accompanied by a driver age 25 or older; driving to/from work; driving for work purposes; or to a school event where transportation is not provided.
For the passenger limitation law, teens are limited to only one passenger under age 20 for the first six months of licensure, and no more than three passengers under age 20 for the second six months. Passengers under age 20 that are members of the teen driver’s immediate family are permitted to ride along.
Traffic safety is a priority for the Woodbury Public Safety Department.
Our officers don’t want to encounter the harsh and tragic scenes of a fatal crash. That is why we will work to ensure new teen drivers are following these guidelines including the other new law that prohibits texting while driving, which applies to all motorists.
Cell phone use by teen drivers is also prohibited by law, except to call 911 in an emergency.
But we can’t enforce these laws alone. We call on the support of parents to reinforce these laws and help teens understand the importance of safe driving behavior.
We recommend that parents monitor and train teen drivers — even after licensure — and expose teens to a variety of driving conditions and environments.
Also, be a positive role model behind the wheel: buckle up, pay attention, drive at safe speeds — and put down the cell phone.
Acting on these simple steps will result in safer Woodbury roads for the future.
Zacharias is an officer with the Woodbury Public Safety Department.