Teen driver limits

A Premier Driving Institute driver education vehicle is shown in northwest Goshen this week.

An effort to increase restrictions on teen drivers in Indiana who fail to take a driver’s education course before they get a license may be stalled for lack of good data.

Legislators assigned to a study committee on the state’s teen driving laws aren’t embracing a proposal to push the legal driving age to 17 for teens who learn how to drive on their own.

Their reluctance was evident at a committee meeting Monday when legislators couldn’t get more information on some year-old data from the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles. That data  showed Indiana teenagers who took a driver’s education course had four times more crashes than the state’s teenage drivers who didn’t take a course and instead learned to drive on their own or from their parents.

Sarah Meyer, a BMV spokeswoman, told committee members that the crash numbers may have been skewed. But she also said the BMV hadn’t taken a closer look at the numbers because of budgetary constraints.  

“I think we need to sit tight for a year or two until we can collect some better data,” said state Sen. Travis Holdman, a Republican from Markle who has carried legislation that has put increasing restrictions on teen drivers.

Committee members from rural districts seemed to concur. State Rep. Doug Gutwein, a Republican from Francesville, said children of farmers in his district often learn how to drive by operating tractors and other farm equipment.

“The folks where I’m from aren’t going to like this,” said Gutwein of the proposal that would require teens who don’t take a driver’s education course to wait until they’re 17 to get their license.

At issue is Indiana’s graduated driver’s license program. In addition to restricting nighttime driving and banning cell phone use by drivers younger than 18, the legislation also pushed backed the age that teens could get their driver’s license and granted that license earlier if the teen had taken a driver’s education course.

Under the law that went into effect July 2010, teens can get their license six months after they turn 16 if they’ve taken a driver’s education course; without a course, they have to wait nine months after their 16th birthday.

The legislation has had an impact on safety. By pushing back the age requirements, the number of collisions involving drivers under 18 dropped from 6 percent of all collisions to 4 percent.

The study, which looked at the first six months after the law went into effect, found that the increased restrictions on teen drivers resulted in hundreds of fewer accidents.

But the crash numbers from the BMV, which were given to the committee a year ago, complicates the picture and raises questions about whether the cost of a driver’s education course — about $300 — is worth it.   

During the hearing, legislators were told that there is a declining number of teens taking driver’s education courses in Indiana. Tom Zachary, president of the Indiana Driver Education Association, said those numbers don’t bode well for traffic safety.

“Common sense tells me that it’s not a good idea to put a kid behind the wheel and just let him go,” Zachary said.

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