New limits on teenage drivers will save lives
July 7, 2005
In response to the recent enactment of a law that places new limits on teen drivers, The Aspen Times conducted an in-house poll, surveying three editors in the newsroom about their experiences behind the wheel as teenagers. The poll results reveal that 100 percent of teen drivers are, well, teenagers.When he was just 15, one editor took some of his buddies for a joyride in mom’s car, steering into a hedge while negotiating a cul-de-sac at a seemingly high rate of speed. Nobody was hurt, but the car’s front end was in pretty bad shape.Just one day after passing the test for his first license, the second editor in our survey was pulled over on Owl Creek Road and cited for speeding – 45 in a 25.Even with a few years of driving experience under his belt, the third editor surveyed managed to total two cars in two weeks. In the first accident, he was T-boned as he pulled out in front of a car looking for a parking spot in downtown Denver. Cause of accident: “I didn’t look.” In the second, he plowed into a canyon wall outside Fort Collins because he lost control of his speedy new replacement car, a turbo-charged Mazda.When they’re behind the wheel, teens make predictably rash decisions: If you want to impress your 15-year-old buddies, hit the gas. If the speed limit feels too low, hit the gas. If the car goes fast, hit the gas.Most get away with their transgressions, and even when there are consequences they are usually pretty light. But all too often we hear stories of car wrecks involving teenagers in which someone ends up dead.According to the state Department of Transportation, 44 of the 96 teens who died on Colorado roadways in 2004 were 16 or 17 years old. Two-thirds of those 96 dead teens weren’t wearing seat belts.And according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 16-year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age, and they are three times more likely to die in a crash than other drivers.That’s why Colorado’s new law makes so much sense. It bars teenagers from driving with other teens in the car (except for family members) until they have been licensed for six months. After they pass that first hurdle, it limits them to just one passenger under the age of 21 for another six months. The law also makes it illegal for teens under 18 to be on the road between midnight and 5 a.m. for their first year with a license (unless it is a medical emergency or they are driving to work or school).The new violations are secondary offenses – police can’t simply pull someone over because they look too young to be driving around with their friends – that can’t be enforced unless the driver commits some other offense, such as speeding. But we hope the law enforcement agencies in Aspen and Pitkin County take the new law seriously and enforce it consistently.Teens make a lot of bad decisions both on and off the road because they are just learning how to make decisions. By tapping the brakes with newly licensed teenagers, Colorado lawmakers are saving lives by giving them a chance to become better drivers (and decision-makers).