Teen driver laws in many states contain “passenger restrictions” — minimum time periods that must elapse before a newly-licensed 16 or 17 year old driver may transport certain categories of people. In general, nationwide, there are two types of standards. The first prohibits teens from having any passengers for a certain time period such as three months, and then allows them to add “immediate family members” (those who live in the same place with them) during the next three months, and then finally a time when they may transport anyone, such as their friends. A second model is family members only during the first three to six months and then no restrictions after that time. Here in Connecticut, the rule adopted in 2008 is no passengers other than an adult supervising driver for six months, immediate family added during the next six months, and then friends only after one year.
These laws exist because it is well documented that a teen driver’s risk of a crash goes up when he or she has even one passenger, and increases with each additional passenger. These restrictions are a critical part of Graduated Driver Laws; the federal STANDUP (Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection) Act, pending in Congress, proposes a national minimum standard for the number of months that teen drivers must wait before they can carry passengers.
The “no passengers” and “immediate family only” rules are relatively easy for parents to follow. They know when their teen was licensed and who their immediate family members are. But the question arises: how do other parents, teens, and fellow students know when a teen driver has been licensed long enough to legally carry passengers? Of course, as is amply discussed elsewhere on this blog, the fact that a teen driver has been licensed for one year is no guarantee whatsoever that he or she is a safe driver. On the other hand, it would seem to be a huge implementation issue for these passenger restrictions that parents and teens have no quick and easy way to know who can legally carry passengers.
Here in Connecticut, a group called the Teen Driving Safety Partnership is considering a proposal to deal with this problem. The Partnership is developing a memo to the statewide association of high school principals, seeking one or more schools to volunteer to set aside space on the school’s website where parent and teens would voluntarily list the name of their teen driver when he or she has been licensed long enough to legally carry passengers. The basic idea is that the school will establish on its website a password-protected link to the list; publicize the link and list; invite parents and teen drivers to add the teen driver’s name to the list when the prescribed minimum period has elapsed and the teen has not been convicted of a moving violation or had his or her license suspended or revoked; and remove the driver’s name if he or she is later convicted of a moving violation or receives a license suspension or revocation. Volunteer schools will be asked to run the program for about six months, evaluate it with parents and teens, and report back to the Partnership on its use and effectiveness.
As with anything involving students and education, there are legal issues. The first is privacy rights; one parent or guardian of the teen driver will need to sign a written consent form allowing the teen driver’s name to be listed. Second, the school or school district will need to post a strongly-worded disclaimer, stating that the list is voluntary; the school/district cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information when posted or thereafter; and ongoing compliance and accuracy are up to the parents and teens listed. In other words, each school or school district will have to weigh the benefits of providing this information to parents and students with the risk that someone might rely on the information in taking a ride, get into a crash, and then try to hold the school responsible.
Passenger restrictions are plainly important to safe teen driving. It would seem as though giving parents and students the ability, on their cell phones or computers, to get quick information about legal if not safe rides, could help the cause.
The Partnership and I would be very interested to hear from any readers who are aware of any similar program, and how it has worked. Thanks.