State lawmakers passed legislation this week that, if signed by Governor Corbett, will strengthen teen driver laws by setting passenger limitations and increasing training hours for young drivers.
Members of the Pennsylvania House overwhelming voted 188-6 on Wednesday to approve House Bill 9, which reportedly enhances the safety of Pennsylvania's roads by improving the Commonwealth's graduated driver's license law.
Specifically, the bill limits the number of teen passengers to one for the first six months that a junior driver has a license, with an exception for family members.
After the first six months, the bill restricts the number of passengers under the age of 18 to three non-family members, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian, providing the teen driver has a clear driving record.
The bill also expands training requirements before a teenager can take the test to obtain his or her license, by increasing the behind the wheel training from 50 to 65 hours. Ten of these hours must be completed at night and five during inclement weather.
In addition, the bill makes it a primary offense for any person to drive a vehicle with a passenger under 18 who isn't wearing a seatbelt or who isn't properly restrained in a booster or car seat. The primary enforcement allows police officers to pull over a vehicle for that violation absent additional cause.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers between the ages of 16 to 19, a rate that is four times that of adults, according to the Pennsylvania AAA Federation. In 2010, fatalities in crashes involving a 16 or 17 year old driver increased 43 percent from the previous year.
According to one study, the chances a 16 year old will die in a motor vehicle collision increases 39 percent with one teen passenger, 86 percent with two teen passengers and 182 percent with three or more teen passengers.
Governor Corbett has 10 days to sign the legislation into law. Until then, Pennsylvania remains one of only seven states without an updated graduated driver's license law. If signed, the law is scheduled to go into effect on November 28, 2011. Proponents of safer driving legislation urge lawmakers to consider a state wide ban on texting while driving next.
About the Author: Annie Reynolds is a advocate for consumer safety and practicing Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer at the law firm of Sheridan & Murray.