Titone Bill Will Minimize Distractions for Inexperienced Teen Drivers

June 17, 2009

Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D-North Shore) announced the Assembly passed a measure he sponsored creating a statewide ban on driving while using portable electronic devices (PEDs) (A.8568-B). Such devices include mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), handheld devices with mobile data access, laptops, pagers, two-way messaging devices and electronic games.

In addition to cutting down on driving distractions for all motorists, the legislation includes measures to better protect young, inexperienced drivers and reduce the incidence of traffic crashes by strengthening New York’s graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws.

“This legislation is especially important for teen drivers,” Titone said. “Whether it’s the distraction of cell phones or too many passengers, or simply their lack of time behind the wheel, we are bombarded by staggeringly high numbers of teen car accidents and fatalities.”

"I am pleased that the Assembly has passed this legislation, and I appreciate everything Assemblyman Titone has done to help promote safe teen driving. This is a first step in a long journey," said John Arout, a safe teen driving advocate. "The Arout family appreciates that Assemblyman David Gantt recognizes that there is a teen driving problem, and that he has taken steps to strenghten the graduated driver licensing laws."

The bill eliminates the Limited Class DJ/MJ driver license so that young, inexperienced drivers will be supervised for the full six-month permit-holding period otherwise required by current law. The elimination of this license will also simplify the current laws regarding junior drivers by making the laws more readily understandable to the public and law enforcement, and therefore, more easily enforced. The bill maintains the junior driver licenses (Class DJ or MJ), which allow limited driving privileges for young people learning to drive.

Specifically, the bill also:

  • increases from the current 20 hours to 50 hours (including 15 hours of driving after sundown) the number of practice driving hours that must be certified by a parent or guardian before a permit-holding junior driver can obtain a license; and
  • reduces the number of non-family passengers under the age of 21 who will be able to ride with a junior driver who is not accompanied by a specified supervising adult from two to one.

“Stricter laws and additional driver education requirements are essential to produce safer, better-prepared teen drivers and bring down the number of teen deaths. This bill cracks down on distractions and encourages teens to make smart decisions behind the wheel,” Titone said.

To combat the fatality rate of this high-risk driving group, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has encouraged states to implement a graduated licensing system to ease young, inexperienced drivers onto the roadways. A 2008 publication by the administration revealed that 16-year-old drivers have accident rates three times higher than 17-year-olds and five times higher than 18-year-olds. According to NHTSA, there are many factors contributing to these numbers, including:

  • lack of driving experience;
  • inadequate driving skills;
  • excessive night-time driving;
  • risk-taking behavior behind the wheel;
  • poor judgment and decision making; and
  • too many distractions.

Assemblyman Titone has been an avid supporter of legislation aimed at increasing teen-driving safety. In addition to this bill, Titone authored several measures to improve teen-driving practices, including:

  • Michelle and Jordan’s law to prohibit speeding contests (A.8438);
  • allowing “Safe-Teen-NY Driver” stickers to be placed on cars driven by teens (A.8319); and
  • requiring parents to accompany a teen driver to court for traffic violations (A.5974).

“Accident rates alone are too high among teens,” Titone said. “Add to this the fatality rate of these accidents, and we have a serious problem. This bill takes the first real steps toward addressing this issue, beginning with how teens are learning to drive.”