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Senate backs tougher rules for teen drivers

Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013 11:49 a.m. CDT

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa teenagers who want a driver’s license before turning 18 would have to have a learner’s permit for a year instead of the current six months, under a measure the state Senate passed Wednesday.

Senators voted 41-8 in favor of the bill, which would also only allow minors to drive around only one unrelated minor during the first six months after getting a license, unless they are accompanied by a parent, guardian or driving instructor or unless their parents sign a waiver giving them blanket permission. Current passenger restrictions are limited to the number of seatbelts in a car.

In Iowa, residents can get permits at age 14, restricted licenses at 16 and full licenses at 18.

Sen. Tod Bowman, a Maquoketa Democrat who sponsored the bill, said teenage drivers are far more accident-prone than older motorists. He said the longer permit period would give teens experience driving in all seasons and that limiting passengers would reduce distractions for new drivers.

“Why do we want to change our current law? The most dangerous time for drivers is the first six months,” Bowman said. “Research shows teen drivers are almost twice as likely as adults to be involved in accidents.”

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 under in the state in 2012. Those crashes resulted in the deaths of seven underage drivers and three passengers. One of the passenger deaths was a minor.

A spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad did not offer a position on the legislation, saying the governor would have to see it in its final form before deciding whether to support it.

The bill now moves to the House.

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