Editorial: Build on success of teen driver's license law

Driving, as we all know or should know, is a privilege.

When we are licensed to traverse our streets in a motor vehicle, we agree to abide by certain rules and laws. States across the nation have put that philosophy into practice with special rules for teen drivers, called graduated driver's licenses.

And what do you know? We've come to accept those rules, enforce those rules, and, at least here in Illinois, we've seen positive results.

According to Secretary of State Jesse White's office, teen traffic deaths have been cut in half over the past decade. White credits the graduated driver's license law with that 51 percent drop.

White said there were 76 fatalities among motorists 16-19 in 2016, compared to 155 in 2007, the year before the program took effect.

The teen license program is one that teens and their parents take seriously. A study last year done by The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia shows more than 91 percent of trips taken by young drivers in New Jersey followed that state's graduated driver's license rules on passengers and 97 percent comply with nighttime curfews.

"There is a misperception that teen drivers with intermediate licenses do not follow GDL restrictions. The finding of this study, along with several naturalistic driving studies, help to dispel this myth," said Allison E. Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the hospital.

These programs are working and could be a blueprint for how to address other issues affecting driving, whether by teens or adults.

One major issue is distracted driving. This week our transportation columnist Marni Pyke reported on a new study from AAA that many vehicle infotainment systems are a distraction that could lead to accidents.

"Just because they're in your car doesn't mean they're safe to use while driving down the roadway," AAA spokeswoman Beth Mosher said.

AAA conducted the study, Pyke reported, to prod auto manufacturers to improve their dashboard systems by following federal guidelines that recommend features such as texting, social media and navigation be locked out while cars are moving.

Just as seat belts are now standard, these systems should be required, not recommended, to be locked while driving.

And just as our youngest drivers are obeying new rules, all drivers need to remove distractions and keep their eyes on the road. As AAA notes, a car going 25 mph can travel the length of four football fields in the 40 seconds it takes to type in directions for a navigation system. A lot of lives can be lost in those 40 seconds and those directions will be useless.

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