Federal Government STANDs UP to the Risks of Novice Driving

A recently proposed bill moving through Congress would establish minimum graduated driver's license guidelines for states to either adopt or risk loss of federal funds.

The Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act, or STAND UP Act, creates minimum requirements for graduated driver's licensing programs, many of which states have already embraced over the past two decades. Until now, states have been free to pick and choose the different restrictions they wish to adopt.

All states but South Dakota have graduated driver's licensing programs (GDLs), which typically divide licenses into three categories: learner's permit, intermediate and unrestricted. Drivers with learner's permits must drive with another licensed driver for an allotted amount of time, while drivers with an intermediate license typically have nighttime driving and cell phone restrictions. These restrictions are lifted once the driver reaches a certain age, usually 18, and when he or she receives an unrestricted license. In states where GDLs are implemented, teen crash risks have plummeted an average of almost 40 percent.

Although most states have GDLs, every program is a little different. The STAND UP Act aims to unify the states' programs. Under the STAND UP Act, states would be required to meet minimum requirements for GDL programs, or they could be denied federal funding, similar to the requirement for states to maintain a drinking age of 21 years of age, or risk losing federal transportation funding.

The STAND UP Act uses the same driver categories as most state GDLs. A learner's permit would be issued at age 16 and be held for at least six months. During that time, new drivers would have to spend at least 30 hours behind the wheel with another licensed driver over 21 years of age. An intermediate license would allow drivers to drive by themselves, but with no more than one passenger that is under 21, no cell phone use and no nighttime driving. At age 18, intermediate drivers would be granted an unrestricted license only if no traffic offenses have been committed.

Although these regulations seem strict, graduated driver's licensing programs in states like Connecticut already exceed the proposed minimum federal requirements. A driver with a learners permit in Connecticut can only drive with one other person in the vehicle, who must be a parent, legal guardian or driving trainer. The federal requirements allow a driver with a learner's permit to drive with other family members in the vehicle. A driver with an intermediate license in Connecticut cannot drive with any other person except a parent, legal guardian or trainer for the first six months, then with immediate family only for the second six months. The state also imposes a curfew of 11 pm to 5 am until a driver's 18th birthday, when a driver can receive an unrestricted license. Until that time, drivers are also required to wear seatbelts and are prohibited to use a cell phone.

The STAND UP Act aims to keep new and teen drivers safer as they set out on the nation's roadways. Although some states, including Connecticut, already meet or exceed the proposed requirements, the Act will hopefully bring those states with lax programs up to par.