An effort to improve some teen drivers’ road safety by limiting their number of passengers is having little impact in Iowa, because the majority of parents are signing waivers to opt their kids out of the requirement.
According to data from the Iowa Department of Transportation, about 90 percent of parents signed waivers in 2014 to exempt their teen drivers with intermediate licenses from the restriction, which says that for the first six months with such a license, the 16-year-olds or 17-year-olds can’t have more than one unrelated minor passenger when driving without adult supervision.
Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, said he sponsored the 2013 bill in an effort to “prevent fatalities and accidents for our new drivers.” But he added it gives parents flexibility – and “you can’t go wrong allowing parents to make the decision.”
Intermediate driver’s licenses are awarded to 16 or 17-year-olds who have completed certain education requirements. The licenses have some restrictions on when the teens can drive, and the 2013 law added the passenger rule. It went into effect last year, when 44,942 drivers got intermediate licenses and 40,500 got a waiver.
Iowa teens can get an instructional driving permit at 14 and, under some circumstances, a license to drive to school six months later. Full licensing can begin at 17.
A 2012 teen driving study issued by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that teens were much more likely to get into a crash with one or more passenger in the car. State data shows the number of fatal crashes involving intermediate licensed drivers climbed slightly in 2014 – 11 in 2014, 9 in 2013 and 8 in 2012. And of the 28 fatal crashes involving intermediate license holders over those three years, five involved drivers with two or more passengers.
Forty-seven states and Washington D.C. have passenger restrictions for new teen drivers, according to data compiled by the nonprofit Governors Highway Safety Association. Iowa is the only state that has the option to waive.
Jonathan Adkins, the association’s executive director, said Iowa’s rules were among the weakest in the nation.
“It’s basically voluntary because parents can waive,” Adkins said. “That sends a message that it’s not very serious. There is a host of research out there that shows that if you reduce the number of teen passengers with a teen driver the chance of a crash goes down.”
The transportation department would like to see participation grow in the passenger restriction program, spokeswoman Andrea Henry said. She said the flyer offered to parents at the licensing centers was redesigned last spring in an effort to better communicate the risks.
“Our goal is always to reduce the number of fatalities on the roadway and the number of crashes. That’s a goal of ours to continue to educate people on the dangers of having extra passengers especially with inexperienced drivers and making sure their kids stay safe,” Henry said.
Bowman, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said he would consider revisiting the rules if he thought there was evidence that safety outcomes had not improved. Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said he also thought it merited discussion.
But Altoona resident Ana Garcia said she was comfortable waiving the requirement for her 16-year-old son, Edwin Leanos-Garcia. They were at a license center in Ankeny on Thursday to get an intermediate license.
“I trust him and I know my son,” she said. “He’s driven since he was 14.”
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