The 2012 Legislature may have flunked redistricting and prudent tax-cutting, but Kansans can be grateful to past Legislatures for getting tougher on teen drivers. The laws they passed are proving to be as lifesaving as advertised, making Kansas a safer state.
Accidents and fatalities involving 14- through 16-year-old drivers are down sharply since the 2009 passage of a three-tier graduated driver’s licensing system that requires more supervised time behind the wheel for beginners, restricts newly licensed teen drivers’ number of passengers and late-night driving, and bans their phoning and texting.
Young teen drivers’ crashes dropped to fewer than 3,000 last year after more than 5,000 in 2004 and 2005. Deaths in that age range, which averaged 22 annually in the five years before the law, declined to 15 in 2010 and nine last year.
“It will save lives,” state Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, had predicted in March 2009, as he pushed the bill through the Statehouse.
Clearly, the law is working as intended.
More credit surely goes to the 2006 Legislature for requiring 14- to 17-year-olds to wear seat belts, and also mandating booster seats and other age-appropriate restraints for child passengers. More young Kansans now have a healthy respect for why seat belts are worth wearing – and are willing to call out their parents for failing to buckle up.
To their credit, schools and students themselves have gotten involved in the advocacy, through S.A.F.E. (Seatbelts Are for Everyone) and other programs.
The recent focus on highway safety hasn’t been all kid stuff, either. In 2010 lawmakers also passed a long-sought “primary” seat-belt law, adding teeth to the seat-belt requirement by allowing law enforcement to stop cars if occupants aren’t belted. And texting by all drivers has been banned since 2010 and subject to a fine since 2011. The few highlights of the 2012 legislative session included good work against drunken driving.
Kansas can still do better. In a 2011 state survey, only 83 percent of Kansans ages 14 and older were wearing their seat belts, and in 2010 the state ranked 36th in the nation in seat-belt usage.
But the declining accident and fatality numbers related to teen drivers show the power of good legislation to change the state for the better.
By raising expectations for young drivers, state lawmakers have spared expense and, most important, lives and heartache.