Editorial: Stricter road laws needed for teens


Editorials, columns and cartoons.

Editorial Board

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone when we say distracted driving is a bad thing. It’s a pretty welcoming statement — one we can assume everyone agrees with. Then why do we allow it to happen?

In a recent study, Dan McGehee and Cher Carney, both of the Transportation and Vehicle Safety Research Program at the University of Iowa’s Public Policy Center, shared with Iowa Public Radio that parents can opt out of the Iowa law that restricts teen drivers from having passengers in their vehicles. A total of 90 percent of parents do opt out of the law, making it useless and ineffective.

In 2012-2013, 43 teen drivers were killed on Iowa roads, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Anne McCartt, senior vice president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said on IPR that Iowa could reduce its teen crashes by more than half by adopting stricter teen driving laws.

A study done by the Transportation and Vehicle Safety Research Program showed that of 1,700 teen crashes, nearly 60 percent can be caused by a passenger distracting the driver. To put in simpler terms, teens had a higher chance of crashing if they were driving with another passenger than if they were texting and driving. Iowa recently put a bill through the House of Representatives making texting and driving a primary offense. That means, an officer can now pull over drivers if they see them using a cellular device in the vehicle — not just texting, but any use other than a hands-free device.

And while Iowa lawmakers have cracked down on distracted driving by the use of technology in a vehicle, it’s now time to focus in on and work toward protecting the younger drivers in Iowa. One option McCartt mentioned in her interview with Iowa Public Radio was implementing a restriction of zero to one passengers in a car for a teen driver. McCartt said this could reduce teen crashes up to 21 percent.

This board agrees with the options McCartt discusses. The argument that neighbors need to ride into school to conserve gas, time and other resources does not outweigh a teen’s life. At what point did convenience become more important than ensuring the safety of a driver?

These studies showed that distracted driving was the leading cause in teen crashes in Iowa. And while it was a monumental move in the right direction to work on banning the use of cellular devices in vehicles, we now need to focus on future drivers of the road and ensuring their safety.