Sen. Carper Cosponsors National Safety Plan to Prevent Teen Car Accidents

Car Crashes are Number One Cause of Death among American Teenagers; Legislation Mirrors Delaware Graduated Driver License Laws

WASHINGTON – Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) cosponsored a new national plan to make our roads safer and save lives in an effort to address the leading cause of death among teenagers in America – car accidents. The Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection (STAND UP) Act, introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Tim Bishop (both D-N.Y.), is legislation to set national standards for states to implement Graduated Driver License (GDL) programs that prepare teens to be safe, responsible drivers by giving them more experience and better driving education before they set out on the road. As Governor, Carper signed into law legislation creating Delaware’s Graduated Driver Licensing program in 1999.


“I am proud to cosponsor the STAND UP Act. The state of Delaware saw a clear drop in teen driver-related accidents after I enacted the Graduated Licensing laws as governor,” said Sen. Carper. “Eleven years later, the number of accidents involving teen drivers in Delaware has been cut in half. We need to ensure the safety of all teenage drivers, not just in Delaware, by requiring teens to meet tougher standards to earn a license. This legislation introduces teens to the driving experience gradually by phasing in full driving privileges over time and in lower risk settings. The First State has demonstrated that this method works. I want to encourage the rest of the country to adopt this system so we can keep our roads, and loved ones, safe.”


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, car accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers in America, causing more than one in three deaths in this age group. Drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 years old are four times more likely to get in a crash than older drivers. In 2009, eight teens ages 16 to 19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries. 


In states with Graduated Licensing laws, like Delaware, fatal crashes among 16-year-old drivers have fallen by 40 percent. Since enacting the GDL law in 1999, Delaware has seen a 59 percent reduction in the number of crashes involving 16-year-olds. In 1998, the year before the law then-Governor Carper signed was implemented, 16-year-old drivers alone were involved in 1,001 motor vehicle crashes in Delaware. Ten years later, 16-year-old drivers were involved in 415 motor vehicle crashes, fewer than 50 percent the number from a decade earlier. 


National Standards for GDLs


GDLs are a proven effective method for reducing the risk of crashes among new drivers by introducing teens to the driving experience gradually, phasing in full driving privileges over time in low-risk settings, and learning to eliminate distractions that cause accidents. While every state has some version of a GDL system, the requirements vary widely and are very weak in some states. For instance, six states allow for learner’s permits to issued to drivers as young as 14; three states have no regulations on nighttime driving for teen drivers; one state (South Dakota) allows for a 16-year-old to receive an unrestricted license.

The legislation would call on states to establish GDL systems with minimum requirements:


o   A 3-stage licensing process, from learner’s permit to intermediate state to full, non-restricted drivers licensing;

o   Prohibited night driving during intermediate stage;

o   Passenger restrictions during learner’s permit and intermediate stage. No more than one non-family member under the age of 21 may travel with a learning teenage driver, unless a licensed driver over the age of 21 is in the vehicle;

o   Prohibited non-emergency use of cell phones and other communication devices, including text messaging, during the learner’s permit and intermediate stages;

o   Learner’s permits to be issued at age 16 and non-restricted drivers licenses to be issued at age 18;

o   Any other requirement set by the Secretary of Transportation, including: learner’s permit holding period of at least six months; intermediate stage of at least six months; at least 30 hours of driving supervised by a licensed driver 21 years old or older; automatic delay of full licensure if permit holder commits an offense, such as a DWI, misrepresentation of age, reckless driving, driving without a seatbelt, speeding or other violations determined by the Transportation Secretary. 

States would have a three year window to establish this set of minimum requirements.

Currently, Delaware already meets nearly all of these standards. Under the STAND UP Act, Delaware would need to change the current regulations to require that an unrestricted license can only be acquired at age 18. Right now, that license can be acquired at age 17 in Delaware with a completed driver education course. 


Costs of Inaction

States that fail to meet new requirements within three years would lose out on three percent of their federal highway funding the first fiscal year of non-compliance, five percent for the second fiscal year, and ten percent from the third fiscal year. 

Facing similar consequences, all 50 states have passed laws to establish 21 as the legal drinking age, a .08 percent legal blood alcohol level, and a zero tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving. 

Resources for States

The STAND UP Act would authorize $25 million in grants each year for three years to help give states the resources they need to put new standards in place – from enforcing standards, to training law enforcement, to publishing new educational materials.