Lawmakers push for graduated driver's licenses for teens

A trio of lawmakers pushed Thursday for Congress to place limits on the licenses given to teenage drivers. 

The lawmakers want to mandate that states issue teenage drivers graduated licenses when they are first learning how to drive. These graduated licenses would impose certain limits on the drivers, such as restricting the number of passengers in their cars or curbing their driving at night. 

The lawmakers, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Reps. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) and Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), made the case Thursday at a policy briefing sponsored by The Hill and Allstate Insurance Co. They argued that whether it is tied to federal highway money or encouraged with grants, Congress should pass the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection (STANDUP) Act of 2011.

The measure would implement a three-tiered process for teenagers to earn driver's licenses, adding an "intermediate stage" during which there would be restrictions on nighttime driving and the number of passengers they could have in the car.

"This is something that's personal for me," said Hultgren, a Republican elected in the Tea Party-fueled GOP wave last year. 

"In the last six years, there have been 35,000 teen deaths," said Hultgren, who has four children. "That's 18 per day. If that was anything else, any sort of disease, it would be on the front page every day. We have to do something about this." 

Rep. Bishop agreed, saying, "If a plane went down, Congress would be falling all over themselves to act.

"One train crash in California and we had new regulations in place almost immediately," he said. "We lose 155 kids a week. We need to act."

Other speakers Thursday included National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief David Strickland, National Safety Council President Janet Froetscher and Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Capt. Thomas Didone, whose 15-year-old son, Ryan, was killed in an accident in 2010.

Klobuchar said she did not have a preference if the graduated licenses were tied directly to highway funding, or pushed through "incentives" that have become popular as the tide in Washington has turned against regulations.

It is most important for Congress to do something about the teen-driver safety issue, she said. 

"People will say it's just a kid, but it's a kid who … killed somebody's grandma," Klobuchar said.

Bishop argued that tying the requirement to highway money that would be included in a new long-term surface transportation bill Congress is considering would maximize its impact.

"Every piece of legislation Congress has put forward with respect to highways ... not a single state has lost a dime of money," he said. "They all complied."

However, while Bishop, Hultgren and Klobuchar sought to project confidence in the STANDUP bill's prospects for being approved, Klobuchar said her 16-year-old daughter was less optimistic.

"'With the way things are going in Washington, I'll be driving five years before you get that thing approved,' " Klobuchar said her daughter, Abigail, told her recently.