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Published January 06 2011

Forum editorial: Restrict teenage driving

North Dakota finally appears ready to join the rest of the nation and impose sensible restrictions on teenage drivers’ provisional licenses. The state is the only one in the country that hasn’t yet adopted what’s called a graduated driver’s license.

It’s basically a stair-stepped approach, easing restrictions as teens get older and more experienced as drivers in the period between turning 14 and qualifying for a learner’s permit, and 16, when eligible for a full driver’s license.

A recent survey by The Associated Press finds a majority of North Dakota lawmakers in both the House and Senate favor the approach. A broad coalition of groups and public officials, including medical professionals, law enforcement officers, auto safety advocates and others, are pushing for such a law, already proved successful in reducing accidents – and saving lives – in many other states.

Fatal car accidents are the leading cause of death in North Dakota, and the nation, for youths ages 14 to 17. Since 2005, North Dakota has lost 101 teens between those ages. Research suggests 40 of those deaths could have been prevented by the proposal brought forward by the North Dakota Coalition for Graduated Driver Licensing.

Their plan calls for restricting 14- and 15-year-olds’ driving privileges at night, limiting their ability to carry unrelated teen passengers, and barring cell phone use except for emergencies while driving – all situations that increase the risk of accidents, often due to distraction. The approach comes after earlier failed attempts, and was tailored using scientific research and surveys of North Dakota attitudes to ensure that it is supported by public opinion.

Their case is compelling. Gov. Jack Dalrymple has endorsed the concept, and it also has the backing of Col. James Prochniak, head of the North Dakota Highway Patrol, and Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm. Legislators should get the job done and pass a graduated driver’s license law. It will save lives.

While they’re at it, they should outlaw texting while driving. Encouragingly, although a bill to do so in the last session was defeated, the AP survey shows a majority of lawmakers now appear ready to ban texting while driving. Both measures will make our streets and highways safer.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.