Let us assume for a moment, that you are hailing a cab in New York City. A taxi cab pulls over. You notice that the driver appears to be a teenage boy.
You ask this young man how long he has had his license. He excitedly tells you that he just got it yesterday. Would you then get into this cab with him? Most people probably would answer no. The reason being that they would not want to entrust their life in the hands of a driver who has just received his license. This quite naturally, makes perfect sense.
In Connecticut, we have a graduated driver license statute that states that a newly licensed teen driver cannot drive with any passengers in his or her vehicle for six months unless that passenger is a parent, driving school instructor or someone at least 20 years of age (with conditions). The reason behind this requirement is that statistically, new drivers are shown to become involved in more accidents. As most of us know, teen driving accidents are the number one cause of death for this demographic. The law makes perfect sense and since its inception in 2008 the incidences of teen fatalities in Connecticut have been greatly reduced. This is a proud accomplishment for the many people who have worked hard at getting this set of laws enacted.
So why, might one ask, has Senator Kevin Witkos of the 8th District, proposed bill number 104 which is entitled, “An Act Allowing Newly Licensed Motor Vehicle Operators to Transport Immediately Family Members to and from School”? The reason behind the proposed bill is to eliminate the restriction placed on newly licensed drivers to allow such drivers to transport immediate family members to and from school.
Study after study during the past decade has documented beyond any doubt that crash rates of newly licensed teen drivers increase significantly when they have one or more passengers other than a supervising adult in the motor vehicle with them. The current law was based upon the recommendations of Gov. Rell's 2007 - 2008 Safe Teen Driving Task Force which relied upon the findings of national experts and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The task force's recommendation to lengthen passenger restrictions by prohibiting siblings as passengers for the first six months of licensure was adopted and made into law in 2008.
There can be no denying that many parents are very busy and would like to rely upon the convenience of having their newly licensed teen driver act as their other child's driver. The fact remains that putting convenience ahead of safety should never be a consideration. We elect our officials to act in the best interests of the citizens of the state of Connecticut. One of our greatest societal concerns is the health and safety of our children.
Statistics have proven that the law, as it currently stands, is saving lives and helping to prevent accidents. Sen. Witkos' proposed bill appears to be the result of receiving calls from parents that would like to change our current teen driving laws to accommodate their schedules without giving the proper consideration to the great safety risk that this proposed bill, if passed, would create.
In closing, I would like you to consider the following: the year before the new teen driving laws were passed, a Wolcott crash killed two siblings on their way home from school. Sen. Witkos' bill endangers siblings riding together with an inexperienced driver and poses the threat that parents could lose two or more children at once in a car crash. The thought of having multiple children killed in the same car accident is so overwhelming that few lawmakers and parents, if any, can comprehend the inexplicable loss and accurately gauge that effect. It should be understood that this proposed bill creates an illusion of temporary satisfaction in addressing parental and constituent convenience, while inviting unimaginable heartache.
It is never the right time to seek to amend legislation that is saving our teenagers’ lives. It is never the right time to attempt to repeal a law that is protecting our teenage drivers. If the teenage taxicab driver referenced in the opening of this article came to your house to pick up your child, would you let your child get in the vehicle with him? I would hope the answer is no. Then what sense does it make to put a newly licensed teen driver at the wheel with one or more younger siblings in the car, that statistically would increase the likelihood that the new teen driver would get into an accident?
This bill should never have been proposed and should not become law.
If you feel the same way, then you should contact Senator Witkos http://ctsenaterepublicans.com/contact-witkos/ and/or the Co-Chairs of the Transportation Committee, Senator Maynard http://www.senatedems.ct.gov/Cap/php-bin/form.mail/Maynard-mailform.php and Representative Guerrera http://www.housedems.ct.gov/guerrera/contact.asp. and/or your State Representative or State Senator and advise them of this fact.
Richard P. Hastings is a Connecticut personal injury lawyer at Hastings, Cohan & Walsh, LLP, with offices throughout the state. He is a member of the CT DMV Commissioner's Advisory Committee on Teen Safe Driving. He has been named a New England Super Lawyer and is the author of the books: "The Crash Course on Child Injury Claims"; "The Crash Course on Personal Injury Claims in Connecticut" and "The Crash Course on Motorcycle Accidents." He has also co-authored the best selling book "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing- What Your Insurance Company Doesn't Want You to Know and Won't Tell You Until It's Too Late!" He can be reached at 1(888)CTLAW-00 or by visiting www.hcwlaw.com.