Passenger restrictions to begin Dec. 1 for teens with Level 2 driver's licenses

Press Release - For immediate use

November 25, 2002 — No.

By DAVID WILLIAMSON
UNC-CH News Services

CHAPEL HILL — Beginning Sunday, Dec. 1, 2002, North Carolina legislation ratified in August will make it illegal for young drivers with a Level 2 driver's license to transport more than one passenger under age 21 unless accompanied by a parent or other supervising driver. The goal is to continue the reduction in young driver crashes that began when the N.C. Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) system was created in 1997, officials say.

"I sponsored this bill because of a tragic event that occurred in Catawba County about a year and a half ago in which four out of five Saint Stephens High School students died in a single crash," said state Sen. Austin Allran of Hickory. "Generally, packing cars causes distractions, which cause wrecks among people who haven't been driving very long, especially teen drivers."

Allran introduced the legislation with state Rep. Debbie Clary of Cherryville.

"We're confident that the new law will be enforced because it is overwhelmingly supported by parents, and we think young people will support it as well," he said. "What surprised me was how fast the bill passed during the short session when so many other bills were not moving quickly at all." In 2001, researchers at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center showed that the state's Graduated Driver Licensing system, which delays full driving privileges for the youngest drivers until they gain substantial behind-the-wheel experience, dramatically cut the number of crashes, injuries and deaths among such drivers.

Analyses of additional data at UNC revealed in May that when 16- and 17-year-old drivers transport more than one passenger, their chance of a fatal or injury-causing crash grows significantly.

"We found that when a young driver carries one passenger, the risk of such a crash is somewhat higher — about 33 percent," said Dr. Robert D. Foss, research scientist at the Highway Safety Research Center. "The real concern is multiple passengers. Two or more passengers more than double the risk — a 134 percent jump — compared with having no passengers." The intent is to give beginners, who are the most dangerous drivers, many months of practice while protected from the most hazardous driving conditions, Foss said. Limiting Level 2 drivers to carrying one passenger younger than 21 will likely achieve most of the benefit available from a passenger restriction.

"A one-passenger limit will affect a small proportion of teen drivers' trips since currently, 89 percent of trips by these drivers involve either one or zero passengers," he said. "However, trips that the new limit will prevent are the most risky ones."

Teens will learn about the restrictions when they go to a Division of Motor Vehicles office to obtain their Level 2 license and through driver education courses offered at school, said Allran, who also sponsored the original Graduated Driver Licensing system that went into effect five years ago.

"That bill resulted in a 52 percent decrease in fatal wrecks among 16-year-olds and has been hailed as a great success," he said. "Plus, it didn't cost any money. At least 35 states have copied North Carolina and Michigan with their own GDL programs."

Michigan preceded North Carolina in ratifying the nation's first GDL program by a few months, Allran said. Still, last year several other Catawba County teens also died in multiple-passenger crashes, underscoring the need for this addition to the GDL system.

"It's important to think and talk about this as a protective restriction," Foss said. "It's not getting tough on teens or cracking down on them. It's simply putting another element into the GDL system that we know is needed to make their initial driving experience as safe as it can be."

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Note: Foss can be reached at (919) 962-8702 or rob_foss@unc.edu, Allran at(828) 322-1410.

UNC News Services Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596 or david_williamson@unc.edu

Media Contacts

Caroline Dickson
919.962.5835
dickson@hsrc.unc.edu

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