Wash. Teens Find Varying Driving Restrictions

April 4, 2005

According to a recent survey commissioned by PEMCO Insurance, nearly one-quarter of Washington state residents are unaware of the Intermediate Drivers License law, commonly called graduated
licensing. And although parents of teen drivers have much greater awareness of the law, 16 percent of them don’t enforce it.

“It’s essential that parents know about graduated licensing, especially
with prom season approaching,” said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO Insurance spokesperson. “They must know it to enforce it. And enforcing it requires more than just having heard of the law — parents need to know the specific restrictions.”

“It’s a good law,” Osterberg added. “Collisions involving 16-year-olds
have dropped 45% since it took effect.”

Effective July 1, 2001, the graduated licensing law prohibits newly
licensed teens from driving between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. unless with a parent, guardian, or licensed driver over age 25; they cannot carry passengers under age 20 except for immediate family for the first six months; they cannot carry more than three passengers under age 20, except for immediate family, after the first six months; and they must stay collision- and violation-free. Failure to do so could mean they will not receive an unrestricted license until age 18.

“Encouraging new teen drivers to drive responsibly is among a parent’s
greatest obligations,” Osterberg said. “Inexperience and distractions pose constant danger to teens. The graduated licensing law ensures teen drivers can focus on one thing: the huge responsibility of safely driving a car.”

Many parents — nearly 80 percent — enforce their own “house rules” for teen drivers aside from what the state requires. According to the PEMCO Northwest Insurance Poll, 16 percent of Washington parents enforce a curfew, requiring their children to be home by a certain time. Approximately 12 percent require their teenagers to maintain good grades (typically described as a 3.0 grade-point average) to keep their driving privileges.

Other house rules included: no driving at night or in bad weather
(9 percent of parents); can only drive to school or work (7 percent); parents must know where the kids are going and who they’re with (6 percent); and kids must pay for their own gas, insurance, and repairs (4 percent). Some parents prohibit distractions such as eating or using cell phones while driving (4 percent).

The PEMCO Northwest Insurance Poll also suggests that King County parents are more likely than those living elsewhere to connect good grades to driving privileges.

Responses to the poll suggest significant contrasts in parents’ levels of concern and control. One parent said, “Because the state has the law, I don’t need to enforce anything,” while another said, “Driving is a privilege, not a right. If all the chores are done, then driving is permissible.”

“We don’t do anything beyond what the law does,” said one parent. Another responded, “I know teenage driving habits, and I don’t feel they should be unsupervised until they’re 18.”

“Education is crucial to highway safety,” Osterberg said. “This poll shows us there’s still work to be done.”

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