Town Square

Do you think the law should be changed relating to young drivers?

Original post made by [email protected], director of Palo Alto Online, on Jul 13, 2006

There have been two major incidents recently involving young, in this case, teenage drivers. Do you think that the law should be modified to address these issues? Would changes in laws have prevented these tragedies? Laws relating to young drivers were changed effective January 1, 2006, extending to one year the time that a new driver cannot transport other teenagers and shifting the time a new driver needs to be off the road from midnight to 11:00 p.m. Do you think these changes have made a positive difference?


Posted by member
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 15, 2006 at 2:09 am

I am sorry I found your statement rather confusing especially the time range indicated in your statement?! Can you make some adjustment?

Posted by [email protected]
director of Palo Alto Online
on Jul 17, 2006 at 2:09 pm

My question relates to the current online poll on Palo Alto Online which is "Do you think the law should be changed as they relate to young drivers?" It is a challenge to determine what combination of legal restrictions and other elements will create the safest environment for everyone on the road. My question was really an invitation to explore how we are doing in that regard. There are some new laws in place as of 1/1/06. Are they helping? Do we need more or different laws in this arena? Is the law appropriate and/or should we focus on other ways to make it safer on the road for all? I hope that helps clarify my post.

Posted by not a parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 19, 2006 at 4:32 pm

Although I believe action needs to be taken in some form or another, just saying that "the laws as it relates to young drivers" needs to be changed is not enough. Which laws do you think need to be changed? Or, do the laws need to be changed at all- do we need to be adding more rules or harsher punishemnts. [email protected] said that there were new laws enacted, but what are the new laws??

Posted by Bob
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 28, 2006 at 3:32 pm

Is there really a problem with the existing laws? While I'm very sympathetic to Garth Li's family and friends, I have to wonder why a 16 year old without a license has a car in the first place, let alone is allowed to drive it to a party from which he is returning, drunk, at 2 in the morning?
He's already driving without a license and DUI. I don't see how adding another law to be broken would make any difference.


Posted by parent of two boys
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 17, 2006 at 10:59 pm

What Bob wrote is true for the recent local case in question. But to answer Lisa's question:

1. The research shows that yes, Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws restricting nighttime driving hours and teenage passengers for newly licensed drivers **do** lead to significant reductions in the deaths and injuries caused by inexperienced drivers.
Here's the 2006 summary from the Journal of Safety Research:
Web Linkdocs/GDLTeenDriving2006Article.pdf">Web Link
And here's a less wonky summary of the main conclusions from the first symposium on the impact of GDL:
Web Link

2. But laws are not enough to modify risky behavior choices by teens. Most Palo Alto parents have no idea how prevalent drinking, reckless speeding and just plain distracted driving by inexperienced teen drivers in the Bay Area actually is. Or how risky it is for us to just hand over the keys to lethal weapons with wheels instead of bullets to our hormone crazed 16-18 year olds who have just gotten their licenses to drive. Here's something to think about:
"Traffic crashes are the leading cause of teen fatalities, accounting for 44% of teen deaths in the U.S."
Source: Web Link

3. This does **not** mean that there is nothing that can be done to change these risky behaviors. In fact, parents who both understand the provisions of California's GDL law and who set up meaningful consequences if their teen violates the GDL restrictions will indeed reduce the risk of tragic consequences for their teens. See the "Family Guide to Teen Driver Safety":
Web Linkguide.htm
and in particular, the suggested "Parent/Teen Driving Agreement":
Web Linkagreement.pdf

We can't bring Garth Li back. But each of us can take steps to reduce the chances that more teen drivers are killed or cause others to be killed or injured. The Palo Alto Weekly can go beyond the easy headlines to help enlighten parents and teens in this community that in fact "it does happen here", and to provide practical resources for parents. The PTSA and Gunn + Paly administrators can help spread the word. The grief of teen leaders can be channelled toward changing the peer pressure to take risks that endanger the lives of others (and one's own life).

Or we can continue to bury our heads in the sand, ignoring a far greater threat to the safety of our children than riding a bike ever was.