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In their upcoming session Indiana legislators will consider a bill to further restrict beginning drivers' licenses, including putting restrictions on their cell-phone use while driving.
We're not sure if the restrictions will do away with some of the problems caused by young drivers or merely postpone them, but we think the cell-phone restrictions would be good rules for drivers of all ages.
Among other things, Senate Bill 16 would:
• Prohibit drivers younger than 18 from using hand-held or hands-free cell phones while driving.
• Increase the minimum age to get a learner's permit by six months, to 151⁄2, and the minimum age to get a probationary license by five months, to 161⁄2.
• Restrict probationary licensees from driving between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. for the first six months except when driving from work, school or religious functions or when accompanied by a licensed driver 25 or older.
• Prohibit driving with passengers for the first 180 days, except with siblings, unless accompanied by a licensed driver 25 or older.
Sherry Deane, public affairs specialist with the AAA Hoosier Motor Club, told the Evansville Courier & Press the club supports the legislation because young drivers "are inexperienced, immature and overconfident. They are prone to peer pressure, inclined to take risks, and increasingly distracted and tempted to multitask behind the wheel. We are not trying to penalize teens with this . . . we are simply trying to keep them alive."
Everything she said about teenagers also applies to 20- , 21- and 22-year-old college students, though. Or if collegians aren't "prone to peer pressure," why do so many of them binge drink with their friends?
In short, while we don't advocate letting toddlers drive, beginning drivers are always going to be inexperienced and immature, whether they are 16, 161⁄ or 20. So we're not sure raising the driving age will make much difference.
We do like one part of the legislation, which requires drivers with learners' permits to complete 50 hours of supervised practice driving with a parent or instructor, though that will be hard to verify.
As for the proposed legislation's cell-phone restrictions, we think they should apply to all drivers.
A recent study by the University of Utah concluded that "being on a cell phone while driving is as risky as being drunk. And hands-free phones aren't safer."
That study tested 96 adults aged 18 to 49 — all older than those whose cell-phone use would be restricted under Senate Bill 16.
Kira Hudson of Carmel testified at the statehouse in support of the bill. She said she was driving while talking on her cell phone when she swerved to avoid a squirrel, then overcorrected, causing her car to roll over.
The wreck left her a paraplegic. "I definitely think that if I was not on my cell phone, I would not be in the wheelchair today," she said.
She was 20 when the accident occurred, again older than those whose cell-phone use would be restricted by the current bill.
So we believe it would be best to amend the bill to prohibit all ages from using cell phones while driving.
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