Congress Targets Teen Driving, Mulls Federal Driver's License Standards

"What is being proposed has never been tried anywhere. We can't possibly know what the effect could be. We're going entirely on conceptual analysis," said Rob Foss, director of the Center for Study of Young Drivers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "We have no evidence it will do any good."

Bill Aims to Implement Uniformity for Driver's License Standards

Foss argues that the elements in the bill are "ancient," and that even though it is well intentioned, it could end up disrupting good programs that already exist in some states.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety currently ranks programs in 35 states as "good."

It will also unfairly affect rural communities, Foss says, where parents often count on their teenagers to help them with their work and be mobile.

"Life is very different and the natures of driving are very different" from state to state, Foss said. "The culture of states is really very important in this issue. This is not like a speed limit, or this is not like a requirement to wear motorcycle helmets. This goes to the very heart of life as it's lived by families."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who sponsored the Senate bill, argued that it doesn't disproportionately affect rural communities; it simply sets the basic standards that can be molded in each state.

"There are rural communities that need young people to drive to and from work, to get to and from school, but states can carve those exceptions out. This is just setting standards for the training that they have to receive," Gillibrand told "We are not trying to stop kids from going to school or going to and from work."

Other supporters of the bill cite high motor vehicle accidents in rural areas to argue that such programs are even more necessary there. According to NHTSA, 57 percent of deaths from car accidents occurred on rural roads, even though only 23 percent of the country's population lives in the rural areas.

The bill "doesn't say states can't do any better," said Judith Lee Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "All it does is say, we want to set a minimum floor which all states have to meet."

Some states have also expressed concern about the penalties imposed for not complying with the federal standards. The bill would give states three years to comply with the new rules, or a portion of their federal highway funding would be pulled.

Although it hasn't taken a position on the bill, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) expressed concern about that provision.

"Some people would say this is a heavy-handed approach for states," spokesman Jonathan Adkins said. "The question is that the best approach, to have Congress dictate the states in what has typically been a state area, something which is a state issue?"

Gillibrand said states should have ample time to comply, as they have done with other national standards, including for seat belt and minimum drinking age.

"States do this all the time. It's not difficult to meet these standards," she said. "The question is enforcing them."

In the House, sponsors are mulling two options -- one to pass the bill on its own, or, second, to incorporate it in the next reauthorization of the national highway bill.

Gillibrand said in the Senate, sponsors plan to include the language in the transportation reauthorization legislation.

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