Guest Column: Protecting our future

As Illinois Secretary of State, I often have the opportunity to speak to teen-agers at schools and events throughout the state. I stress the importance of getting a good education, treating others with respect and dignity, and volunteering time and assistance in their community. These young people are our future leaders, and we want to see them achieve all that is possible.

Unfortunately, the lives of too many of these young people are lost before they ever have an opportunity to fulfill their aspirations. Too often, these young adults are killed in automobile crashes. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people age 15 to 20.

It is for that very reason that state Rep. Jon D’Amico (D-15) and I initiated a new law this year to strengthen the Illinois Graduated Drivers License (GDL) program by doubling the hours a teen-ager must spend in supervised practice with a parent or guardian. I believe this proposal will help give our young people more experience behind the wheel, in a variety of situations, helping them to become better, safer drivers.

The law requires parents to spend 50 hours with their child in the car, including 10 hours of night driving, before the young person is eligible for an Illinois driver’s license. In addition, parents must sign a consent form before the teen may apply for a driver’s license. Illinois law previously required parents to spend 25 hours with the teen driver behind the wheel.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), young drivers are twice as likely as adult drivers to be in a fatal crash. More than 3,600 drivers 15-20 years old were killed, and an additional 303,000 were injured nationally in motor vehicle crashes in 2004. The factors contributing to these higher crash rates include lack of driving experience and inadequate driving skills; excessive driving during night-time, higher-risk hours; risk-taking behavior; poor driving judgment and decision-making; drinking and driving; and distractions from teenage passengers.

A recent study completed by Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health showed that GDL programs reduce, by an average of 11 percent, the incidence of fatal crashes for 16-year-old drivers. The same study also found that the most comprehensive GDL programs reduce fatal crashes involving 16-year-olds by 21 percent. Considering approximately 1,000 16-year-old drivers are involved in fatal crashes in the United States each year, I want to see that Illinois has the best GDL program in the nation.

That’s why I am putting together a task force of legislators and traffic safety experts to study this issue and propose legislation that will enhance the Illinois GDL program. The task force will begin meeting this summer and hold hearings throughout the state to ensure we develop a comprehensive solution to a very serious problem. We want to reduce fatal accidents among teen drivers, so these young adults have the opportunity to become our future leaders.

From the Aug. 2-8, 2006, issue

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