New Driver Law Can Save Lives

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On Monday, Gov. Jane Hull signed a bill into law that raises the requirements for teens to receive a driver's license in Arizona. Beginning Jan. 1, 16- and 17-year-olds will be required to either pass a driver education course or have a parent or guardian certify that the teen has a minimum of 25 hours of supervised practice behind the wheel. This practice time must include five hours of night driving.

Some people will look at this new law as an inconvenience or an obstacle that will only make it harder for teens to get a license. We look at it as an opportunity to save lives, perhaps the lives of our own children or grandchildren.

Statistics clearly tell us that a high number of driving fatalities involve youth under the age of 18. Insurance companies know this and their rates reflect the added risk to insure such young drivers. By raising the bar on expected preparation, we are sending the message that children must be responsible to enjoy the privilege of driving. We wish there were more laws that emphasize and enforce personal responsibility in our youth.

We do have one concern about the new law -- given the choice of an expensive driver training course ($150 to $300) or signing a paper certifying their child has the required 25 hours of practice driving, many parents will choose the latter. No doubt some parents will simply sign the certification document when, in fact, their child does not fully qualify.

This may be a sad, but unfortunately true, accusation. Many parents of teenagers are already struggling to raise their families and cannot help but see frightening bills for college or tech school just around the corner. Families often need teenagers driving so they can work at a part-time job to earn money themselves.

We think the new law is a good one; 26 states have similar requirements and there is evidence that lives and property are being saved. However, we would like to see the state assist with the cost of the driver education course by either subsidizing the fees or making available state-sponsored classes. We know this sounds like more bureaucracy, but this is not just a matter of paperwork and red tape -- it's a matter of lives, ours and our teen-agers.

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