New restrictions on young drivers are warranted

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

This space recently carried an admonition against talking on cell phones while navigating McCook's snowpacked and icy streets.

Still, we're hesitant to advocate outlawing cell-phoning while driving altogether. While it's definitely a hazardous activity in the midst of rush hour traffic on Interstate 680 in Omaha, we see no harm in a carefully-placed cell phone call while traversing unoccupied miles of highway in Southwest Nebraska. It's relatively safe, that is, as long as one keeps an eye out for deer.

But there are situations when cell phoning while driving should be outlawed, and one of them is when one is young, inexperienced and easily distracted.

A recent hidden-camera exercise on an evening news show, revealing just how inattentive inexperienced teenage drivers can be, is a good argument for LB415, introduced by State Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff on Tuesday.

The bill is a logical extension of Nebraska's new graduated drivers license system, which already has reduced accidents among 16- and 17-year-olds.

LB415 would ban the use of cell phones for youths holding school permits, learner's permits or provisional operator's permits.

Teen drivers could have only one teenage passenger other than a family member, for the first six months after getting a provisional operator's permit.

It would tighten up the driving hours permissible to 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., unless going to or from work or school activities. The current limits are 6 a.m. and midnight.

Teens who don't take driver's ed would need 60 hours of adult-supervised practice, including 10 hours after sunset. The current law requires 50 hours.

They also would have to hold a learner's permit for six months with a clean driving record to get a provisional operator's license. And, if they don't have a clean record for 12 months, they won't be able to upgrade to a regular driver's license.

Adults shouldn't be surprised when teens who go through the day with cell phones glued to their ears talking, or with their thumbs tapping out text messages, try to continue those activities when they get behind the wheel.

It's up to adults to make sure they give their full attention to safe driving, and especially while they're still learning how.

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