Attention California Teen Drivers: Driver's License Law Change on Jan. 1

LOS ANGELES--Dec. 28, 2005--Effective Jan. 1, changes to California's teen driving law will place some new restrictions on young drivers to help protect them from vehicle crash injuries and fatalities, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.

AB 1474 by Assemblyman Bill Maze, R-Visalia, requires teen drivers to have their license for one year before being allowed to drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., or before being allowed to transport young passengers without an adult in the car. Even teens who get their licenses before Jan. 1 will have to follow the new law if their licenses are less than one year old.

Under the previous teen driving law, motorists under age 18 were prohibited from driving between midnight and 5 a.m. for one year after being licensed, and could not transport young passengers without an adult in the car for the first six months after obtaining a license.

"This law applies both to teens who have not yet received their driver's license and to those who have had their license for less than one year as of Jan. 1," said Alice Bisno, the Auto Club's vice president for legislative affairs. "We want teens to be aware that even if they have already started driving young passengers because they earned a license at least six months ago, after Jan. 1, 2006 they will be subject to a traffic violation if they carry underage passengers before the one-year anniversary of obtaining their license."

An Auto Club analysis of teen crash statistics shows that the new law should further reduce teen crash deaths and injuries which have already been significantly reduced by the existing Graduated Driver's License (GDL) law for teens. The original law was passed in 1997 to give teens more experience behind the wheel before they tackle complex driving situations, because vehicle crashes are the primary cause of death for teens and crash statistics show that teen drivers are among the most dangerous on the road.

"The number of crashes involving California's 16-year-old drivers between 11 p.m. and midnight is nearly 13 percent higher than we would expect when we take into account the amount of driving they do at that hour," said Steven Bloch, Ph.D., the Auto Club's senior research associate who analyzed the California teen crash data.

"Because this hour-long period is so risky for teen drivers, extending the driving limit to 11 p.m. will save lives and prevent dangerous crashes," Bloch added.

Lengthening the time of passenger limitation for young drivers also should help reduce crashes. A study of the California GDL law and its effect on teen crash rates estimated that the passenger restriction in the law prevented nearly 700 deaths and injuries statewide in the first three years after GDL took effect. This was because the number of teenage passengers carried by 16-year-old drivers declined by an estimated 25 percent after the law took effect, according to the study. The same study showed that teen drivers with passengers were significantly more at risk of causing a crash than solo teen drivers.

An analysis by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation of teen crash rates indicates that the injury crash risk to both teen drivers and underage passengers significantly declines each month after licensing, then stabilizes a little more than one year after drivers first receive their licenses.

"Extending the passenger limit of the GDL law from six months to one year will help reduce injuries and deaths from teen crashes both by reducing the number of distractions for novice drivers and the number of potential crash victims," Bloch said.

Teen drivers with less than one year of experience may still carry passengers under age 20 as long as there is an adult 25 or older in the vehicle. Young family members can also be transported without having an adult in the car. The 11 p.m. driving curfew also contains exceptions for work and school attendance.

All the provisions of the GDL law are enforced as secondary violations - that is, a law enforcement officer must first pull over a driver for another possible infraction before the driver will be cited for a violation of the GDL law.

Bloch said the Auto Club encourages parents to discuss the new changes in the law with their teens and emphasize that the changes will enable them to become better drivers while reducing their exposure to risky driving situations that they might not be ready to handle.

In 1997, California was the first state to pass a Graduated Driver's License law that included a passenger limit for teen drivers, and the law took effect in July 1998. In the first two years after passage of the law, teen passengers killed and injured in crashes involving 16-year-old drivers decreased by 40 percent.

Besides California, 48 other states and the District of Columbia have approved some form of teen driving restriction. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has ranked California's GDL law as the most comprehensive in the nation.

The Auto Club sponsored SB 1329, the original GDL law, and strongly supported the enhancements to the law contained in AB 1474.

The Automobile Club of Southern California, the largest affiliate of the AAA, has been serving members since 1900. Today, the Auto Club's members benefit by roadside assistance, insurance products and services, travel agency, financial products, automotive pricing, buying and financing programs, automotive testing and analysis, trip planning services and highway and transportation safety programs. Information about these products and services is available on the Auto Club's Web site at www.aaa.com.

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