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updated: 7/10/2011 6:19 PM

Standard teen driving laws a good idea

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

Illinois is a leader in the nation when it comes to helping teens become better and safer drivers. The secretary of state, the tollway authority, sports celebrities, local doctors and local teens all are helping to alert teens, their parents and the driving public to the dangers of distracted driving and the perils facing inexperienced drivers.

Yet, the statistics remain sobering. As Daily Herald transportation writer Marni Pyke reported Sunday, vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for adolescents -- killing about 11 daily in the nation. In 2009, 4,054 people between the ages of 13 and 19 were killed.

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We unfortunately write with regularity on teens killed or injured in car crashes. Just this weekend, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate was killed when the car he was driving smashed into a tree on a Naperville side street.

While the cause is still being investigated, the crash occurred at 1 a.m. Saturday morning -- a dangerous time for any drivers, let alone teens.

That's why it is against the law in Illinois teen for drivers 17 and younger to drive after 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays until 6 a.m. the next day, and after 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Illinois' graduated licensing program also limits the number of passengers in cars with teen drivers and prohibits cellphone use for drivers 19 and under. Violations by 16- and 17-year-old drivers could lead to restrictions continuing when they turn 18.

Illinois "saw a 40 percent decrease in teen driving deaths," said Congressman Randy Hultgren, a Winfield Republican who is the chief GOP sponsor of a federal law that would standardize all the varied state laws. We support his efforts, which in Illinois would mean that Illinois teens would need to wait until 16, rather than 15, to get a permit, and tighten passenger rules even further.

If states didn't enact the graduated licensing program, federal highway funding would be withheld under the proposed law.

The National Safety Council says graduated licensing programs have cut teens' crash risk by 20 percent to 40 percent, leading insurance companies like Allstate to get behind the national effort.

"The biggest killer of teens is road fatalities," Allstate Insurance Deputy General Counsel Brian Vainisi said. "This is an opportunity to cut that down. Let's do it."

And, as Pyke's story details, inexperience and distracted driving are key factors in those accidents and fatalities. Public awareness campaigns on distracted driving are ramping up and we encourage that as well. We especially like the message from Dr. Charles Nozika, a pediatric emergency room physician at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, who submitted an essay to dailyherald.com.

"Life does not supply our teen drivers with a 'reset button,'" he said.

It's a message we all need to heed.

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