Oregon Car Crashes May Lead to Rethink of Teen Driving Laws

The deaths of three teens in three separate Oregon car crashes earlier this month is leading some observers to call for a rethinking of the state’s teen driving laws, according to The Oregonian.

“In 1999 the state passed a graduated driver’s license law for people under 18, requiring a period of supervised driving and a six-month ban on having other teenagers in the car,” the newspaper notes. Over the first eight years that the law was in effect the result was a dramatic fall in the rate of fatal car crashes involving Oregon teenagers. “The number of crashes involving teen drivers plummeted 29 percent, from 6001 to 4279,” according to the newspaper.

The recent accidents, however, highlight another trend: the fact that accident rates among teens are slowly rising again, leading some analysts to wonder whether the 1999 law has reached the limits of its effectiveness. The newspaper quotes a senior official from the Oregon Department of Transportation saying “with things leveling off, the question from a legislative point of view is what’s the next step? What else can we do?” As a result, according to The Oregonian, the ODOT is urging “lawmakers to put stricter limits on when drivers under 18 can have other teens riding along.”

The proposal is based on research indicating that teens in general, and teenage boys in particular, tend to drive more recklessly when other teens are in the car. Under current law newly-licensed drivers under the age of 18 “are prohibited from having passengers under 20, except for family members, for the first six months after receiving their license. During the second six months, they can ferry no more than three under-20 passengers in the vehicle.” One idea is to extend the time-frame of those restrictions.

As the article also notes, “nationally, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers.” As a Portland auto accident lawyer I see far too many cases involving teens and believe that any measure that might help cut the still-high teen car accident rate is worth considering. There will, of course, be a number of other issues to consider here: will the potential penalties be tough enough to serve as a real deterrent? Will the new laws be subject to primary enforcement (i.e. will police officers, in effect, be able to pull over a car full of teenagers for the express purpose of checking people’s ages). Like all significant legislative proposals making any change will require time and careful consideration. It is, however, a conversation worth having.

 

The Oregonian: Oregon teen driving laws scrutinized after West Linn, Oregon City students’ deaths