Rules for rookie drivers

    Automobile crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S.

    Now a new study from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia suggests ways to make teen driving safer.

    Pennsylvania restricts night driving for new teen drivers, but Dr. Dennis Durbin says the Commonwealth hasn’t adopted other licensing laws that could cut down on teen crashes.

    Durbin helped lead the study at the hospital’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention. In addition to his role as researcher, he’s an emergency room doctor and dad to a 17-year-old driver. The rules at the Durbin household are tougher than Pennsylvania’s law.

    “So my daughter is not allowed to have a passenger in her car for at least the first six months of her driving, a peer passenger, a friend. She has attempted to negotiate that and she understands that the reason for that is the safety of her friends and herself,” Durbin said.

    Sure, teens can be reckless but Durbin says it’s the combination of inexperience, recklessness and distractions that can be most deadly.

    Bucks County legislator Katharine Watson has tried two times to tighten Pennsylvania’s laws on rookie drivers. But she says other lawmakers in the state legislature have said to her, “Kathy, you can’t bring all teen drivers home safely.”

    “I’m well aware of that but I know that other states do a better job of bringing their teen drivers and others home and that’s all that I’m angling for,” she said.

    Watson says rowdy friends can be a distraction even for the most responsible young person.

    “They can be a National Merit Finalist on their way to Harvard University … especially in the company of other young people, they make a reckless decision. That can cost that young person his or her life,” she said.

    Durbin and colleagues want stepped-up legislation to improve teen seat-belt use and prevent in-car distractions including young passengers and cell phone use.

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