Limits on teen driversreasonable, necessary

With palms sweating and hearts racing, many Minnesota teens are feverishly studying their driver’s training manuals in preparation for an upcoming exam. Hopes of climbing behind the wheel alone for the first time dominate their thoughts. Earning a driver’s license is one of the few remaining rites of passage into adulthood; but do current laws make that passage too easy?
Perhaps. Although Minnesota has some of the more stringent restrictions for young drivers — currently requiring a classroom course and behind-the-wheel training — lawmakers are considering adding more. Proposals for a probationary period, expanded curfew laws, additional classroom training and limits on the number of passengers a teen can carry could, if passed, pose trouble for new drivers.
Most drivers-in-waiting will surely disagree, but these restrictions, especially the 90-day probationary period, are reasonable, if not essential. New drivers would be required to drive only under adult supervision, maintain a clean record and avoid any accidents in which they were at fault for 90 days, lest they lose their license. These provisions could provide anxious teens with the necessary incentive to drive safely, and prove that driving is indeed a privilege rather than a right.
Additional classroom training could likewise prove beneficial, but that training should take a more practical approach to educating new drivers. Flashcards with various traffic signs and symbols have their place, but can only do so much. Instead, more attention should be paid to driving etiquette: merging properly, maintaining a safe distance between vehicles and following right-of-way rules. The gap between classroom theory and highway reality is enormous, and current instructional guidelines do little to help.
Critics of the passenger-limit restriction, many of them parents, claim the proposal would essentially outlaw double-dating and carpooling among teens. But it’s hard to argue that a carload of rowdy kids hurling down the road at 60 mph is safe. Our concerns rest more with safe roadways than the continuation of double dates. Until teens can prove their ability to handle a vehicle properly, we have no problem with forcing them to go it alone. Those who disagree — parents, teens and legislators alike — would be wise to remember this year’s prom-night fatalities.
Not every teen is a bad driver. For that matter, not every adult is a good driver; anyone who has spent time on local highways and byways can testify to that. But for a young person with limited knowledge of a vehicle’s handling characteristics under various conditions, adequate preparation is imperative. It’s best to instill good habits when drivers are young; far too many adults are already lost. We support these legislative efforts to make driving safer for everyone, young and old.