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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 31, 2014

Iowa House backs tougher rules for teen drivers

By MACKENZIE ELMER | Apr 18, 2013

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa teenagers who want a driver's license before they turn 18 would have to wait a little longer under a measure passed Wednesday by the state House.

Representatives voted 87 to 9 in favor of the bill, which requires that minors have their learners permit for a year, instead of the current six months, before they can get a license.

Minors would also only be allowed to drive around only one unrelated minor at a time in the first six months of having a license, unless accompanied by a parent, guardian or driving instructor or unless they get blanket permission from a parent to disregard the limit. Current law limits the number of passengers for drivers with a learners permit and intermediate license to the number of available seatbelts in the car.

Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, who sponsored the bill, says it's important that teens practice driving in all seasons before being allowed to get a standard license.

"Twelve months is a good thing because now we know all kids have encountered adverse conditions and maybe know how to drive better in an icy situation, snow conditions, fog," he said. "I've been a coach of a lot of different sports, the more you practice the better you get. Why would that be any different for driving?"

Rep. Ralph Watts, R-Adel, was one of the few who voted against the bill. He says the bill takes away a parent's right to determine when their children are ready for an intermediate license.

"To me (current law) allows parents to decide how they would allow their 16 or 15-year-olds to use that permit. Do we always have to step in front of parents and decide for them what's best for their children?" Watts said.

Drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 have a fatal crash rate per mile driven that's nearly three times that of older drivers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Among teenagers, 16- and 17-year-olds had a fatal crash rate nearly twice as high as 18- and 19-year-old drivers. The Institute used data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System to do the analysis.

According to preliminary data from the Iowa Department of Transportation, there were 4,229 vehicle crashes by drivers 17 and younger in the state in 2012. Those crashes resulted in the deaths of 7 underage drivers and 3 passengers, including one passenger who was a minor.

"I can't imagine losing a child in an accident, or something, I think that's just a parental thing that you want to make sure you're doing everything you can," said Byrnes, who has a 15-year-old daughter with a learner's permit.

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