Banks County Opinions...

January 16, 2002


Column

By: Kerri Grafius
T
he Banks County News
January 16, 2002

New teen driving law still lacks key element
We all know what it’s like to get that first driver’s license in your wallet—finally, a sense of independence, adulthood, competency and freedom all displayed a state-issued plastic card that symbolizes our break from immaturity to responsibility. It’s a piece of adulthood that we anticipate for years before its arrival, because it’s the ultimate act that distances us from the control of others.
Now think about all of the headlines from metro Atlanta that we’ve all read over the past few years: “Five teens die in car accident,” “Reckless driving cited in teenager’s death,” “Teenage driving accidents on the rise”.
With the rate of teenage deaths on the road rising in recent years to include more than 130 deaths in Georgia in 1996, the state’s legislators finally stepped up to the act of reforming Georgia’s pathetic driving laws.
In their first move to reform the system, they enacted a law in 1997 that delayed the age at which teens could effectively become drivers with full privileges. At the time, they thought that the number of teenage deaths and accidents on the road would somehow magically be reduced if we simply moved the driving age from the “immature” age of 16 to the suddenly “mature” of 17.
And still the deaths continued.
Last year, we saw another surge in teenage driving deaths throughout Georgia that yielded the demand from parents and legislators alike to reform the system once again. Eventually, those demands led to the Teen Driving Safety Law, which became effective on January 1.
Some of the requirements the new teen driving law enacted include the prohibition of teenage drivers on the road between midnight and 6 a.m., a limited number of passengers with new drivers, and (most importantly) the completion of 40 hours of supervised driving with an adult.
Despite the attempt of the new law, I still firmly believe we can’t reform the way Georgians drive on the road without requiring them to pass a professional driver education course—not just accepting “supervised” driving time.
When the state’s legislators passed the Teen Driving Safety Law, they were following the example of practicality every state in the nation to enact “Graduated Driver Licensing” laws or GDL. According to AAA, the nation would see 1.5 million fewer crashes, half a million fewer injuries and 500 fewer deaths of teens 16 to 17 years old over the next 10 years, if states enacted GDL laws.
In passing GDL laws, states have essentially passed the responsibility of a teen’s driving education and habits onto the parents. Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle Safety Commissioner Tim Burgess even states to parents in the teen driving affidavit: “But perhaps the greatest responsibility does not fall upon the young person actually receiving the license; but upon the parent or guardian who first authorizes that young person to visit their local Department of Motor Vehicle Safety office.”
Wait a minute.
So, we’re going to allow teenagers to get the keys of a car, get behind the wheel and navigate the state’s roadways among thousands of other drivers and we’re not going to place that enormous responsibility in the hands of the driver?
Yes, parents are responsible for teaching their children to drive. In my opinion, however, if you’re going to give someone a license to drive (even a “graduated license”) that person’s driving habits could mean life or death—and you should be treated like any other “adult” in that matter.
Getting a license is a privilege and you should accept that those beside you on the road have been deemed an “adult” by the state in granting that license. Responsibility should always fall on the driver at fault.
But, in many states, GDL laws don’t actually REQUIRE all teens to pass a driver education course taught by a professional. Instead, they require parents to spend time teaching their children to drive. Sure, parents will have years of road time experience to pass on to their children, but in this case the parents may not be the best source for teaching our future drivers.
Unlike a driver education professional, a parent may not be aware of all of the current driving laws that will properly teach their teens to become a responsible driver.
In Pennsylvania, for example, the state provides parents with a comprehensive lesson plan for teaching their teenagers the mechanics of driving. For Georgia parents, however, the state simply provides a list of “suggested driving skills” that merely touches upon a few of the elements a driver will encounter.
If the state of Georgia insists that parents will become the teacher of their children’s driver education, the state should at least detail how parents can effectively use those 40 hours with the student. Although the state does reduce the number of parent-child drive time if the student takes a professional driver education course, it doesn’t require it for all drivers.
Another problem I have with the new teen driving law is its dependence on honesty. The new law is based on the fact that parents will truthfully state they spent 40 hours of drive time with the student driver. I can just hear all those hard-working single parents say, “Like I have time for that.”
Limiting the number the passengers with new teen drivers, restricting teen nighttime driving and gradually increasing a driver’s responsibility are all elements that require monitoring—by the already stretched resources of law enforcement agencies.
Take these considerations in to mind and you’ll see that we still have a teen driving system that doesn’t stand up to the firm foundation that a professional education can provide.
While I believe the new system will reduce the number of teen accidents and deaths on the road, I don’t think this is the best solution for Georgia’s drivers. Yes, installing both private and public driver education courses will take time and money, but in teaching Georgia’s teenagers how to become the safest drivers possible, I think its what we should expect.
Kerri Graffius is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers
Her email address is kerri@mainstreetnews.com.

Editorial

The Banks County News
January 16, 2002

Family seeks community’s help
Dear Editor:
You may be able to spread the word. We are trying to raise money for the Allman Family. Mr. Allman was diagnosed with advanced stages of cancer. He needs an operation as quickly as possible, the doctor said it would be suicide to wait more than seven days. The problem is Mr. Allman does not have insurance or the large amount of money needed for the operation. He tried to get help from the state and other programs.
Unfortunately, Franklin County does not have a large list of programs to help in situations like this. At the programs they do have the funds are gone or limited due to Christmas and cold weather. Mr. Allman is not able to work and cannot support himself, his wife and son. This family needs our support and prayers.
Please help me ask our fellow citizens to generously help out their neighbor in his time of need. Please make a donation to the M. Allman fund at any branch of the Northeast Georgia Bank. Any amount donated will be greatly appreciated and go to help Mr. Allman with the operation he needs to save his life.
Sincerely,
Janet Causer

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