Tough love for teens working - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Tough love for teens working

July 5, 2006

Albany-- It's been nearly ten years since the state of Georgia began implementing tougher restrictions for teen drivers. Lawmakers hoped the rules would save lives. Many teens still aren't big fans but the tough restrictions are working.

In 1997, Georgia lawmakers introduced graduated driver's licensing for 16-year-old drivers and more restrictions for other drivers under 18. Since these restrictions have been in place, the death rate of teenage drivers has seen a downward spiral.

Driving is almost a necessity these days and almost everyone has their own key to fulfill that need.  16-year-old Bethany Baggett loves the freedom her key gives her each day.

"I can go anywhere, just whenever," says Baggett. She got her license to drive in March.  A few months later and she's already behind the wheel of her own vehicle but she makes sure she practices safety. "Just pay attention and try to stay off the phone," says Baggett. So far she's crash free and a recent study by Johns Hopkins reveals that states with restrictions on teen drivers like Baggett have fewer deaths.

"It is working. It is working," says Michele DeMott with Albany Safe Communities. In Georgia, teens can apply for a learners permit at age 15 but they then have to wait a year and a day before they can go back and take a road test to receive a Class D license.

"The first six months of a class D license, the driver cannot have unrelated passengers in the vehicle," says Demott. Tough love for teens.  Other restrictions include limits on night-time driving and even keeping up attendance in school.

"If the license bureau is notified that the teenager has missed ten days unexcused, their license will be suspended," says DeMott. Even if the restrictions aren't popular with teens, they have had a positive effect. "What we've seen is about a 37 percent reduction in the rate of fatal crashes of teenagers in those years," says DeMott.

And nationwide, states with at least a few restrictions on young drivers had at least 11 percent fewer fatal crashes compared to states without. Bethany feels the restrictions are reasonable.

"If I wouldn't have driven for a year first, then I would probably be really bad," says Baggett. So far the tough love for teens has helped save lives.  

Nationwide about 1,000 teens die each year in crashes. Between 175 and 200 teens die each year in Georgia.

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