Teen drivers need restrictions

A diver from the Philadelphia Police Marine Unit helps fish a car from the Schuylkill after a teen driver lost control on Kelly Drive. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff photographer)

A national study that concludes 16-year-old motorists are less likely to die in crashes in states with strict distracted-driving rules should move Pennsylvania legislators to toughen state protections.

In the states studied, including New Jersey, the youngest drivers saw a 26 percent reduction in fatal accidents under licensing rules that limited the number of passengers they could carry and restricted their road trips at night.

Companion findings in the study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association should serve as a warning to older teen drivers, too.

Researchers documented a 12 percent increase in fatal crashes among 18-year-old drivers — an indication that any inexperienced driver can benefit from complying with the best practices that guide the stricter licensing laws.

In Harrisburg, there are competing proposals to strengthen the state’s distracted-driving rules, including a promising state Senate-approved measure that would ban handheld cellphones for all drivers and restrict passengers in teenage drivers’ cars.

By limiting teens to just one nonfamily rider, there’s no doubt lives would be saved. Highway experts have documented the escalating risk of a fatal accident with each additional passenger driven by an inexperienced motorist.

The Senate measure also would empower police to ticket young drivers solely for violating the handheld phone ban. That would help limit a practice found to increase serious accident risks in the same way as driving drunk.

Proposed licensing restrictions have been kicked around in the state legislature for several years — long after there has been any doubt as to their effectiveness.

There is no reason for further delay, nor is there any excuse for not moving aggressively to save more young lives on the road.