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Cell phone restrictions may only apply to teens

While a recent study shows states with an intermediate license program have fewer crashes and fatalities among 16-year-old drivers, the state legislature will probably stiffen the rules for teen drivers by forbidding them from talking on their cell phone while behind the wheel.

This past month, state legislators have considered adding a provision to RCW 46.20.075, the intermediate license law, that prohibits first-year drivers from using a cell phone while driving.

Initially, state representatives proposed bills that would have banned all drivers from talking without a hands free device while driving. Transportation committee members, however, said the data available today only shows a need to prohibit teens.

Just as driving drunk impairs one’s ability to drive, a study conducted by Ford Motor Company found teenagers’ driving gets worse when using a cell phone. According to the study, teens are over four times more distracted than adults when using their cell phone while driving.

Using a high-tech, $10 million driving simulator laboratory to uncover the reasons why teenage drivers are at such a higher risk, Ford determined teens typically follow too closely to the car in front of them, have trouble staying in their lane, and don’t know how to split their attention between dialing a phone and driving.

If passed, the new provision will add to the existing restrictions for teen drivers, prohibiting intermediate license holders from using a wireless communication device when operating a motor vehicle.

Washington state has three different types of driver’s licenses; an instruction permit, intermediate license, and unrestricted license.

To earn an intermediate license, state law requires 16-year-old drivers to have their instruction permit for at least six months before they can take their driver’s test. The current intermediate license law, enacted in 2001, prohibits teens from driving between the hours of 1 and 5 a.m. and restricts the number of passengers teens may have in their car. During the first six months after earning their license, teens may not have additional passengers under the age of 20 unless it is immediate family. For the next six months, they are allowed no more than three passengers under 20 in the vehicle unless they are family members.

After one year without any traffic offenses or violations, the teen’s license becomes unrestricted. A teen who commits three offenses loses their license until they are 18.

The Washington state Legislature passed the law hoping it would save lives and a study released by the American Automobile Association earlier this month concluded that laws such as Washington’s do just that.

Also, states with graduated licenses, have fewer accidents.

A study conducted by the AAA determined 16-year-old drivers are involved in 38 percent fewer fatal crashes and 40 percent fewer crashes resulting in injuries if they go through an intermediate license program.

“In the states with three-stage programs, 16-year-old drivers were involved in 11 percent fewer fatal crashes, and 19 percent fewer crashes with injuries,” the AAA study said.

Here on the Island, police have only cited 16 teens since 2005, for violating the intermediate license law by having friends in the car under 20-years-old. MIPD public information officer, Leslie Burns, said that the number is low because police must have a reason to stop a teen driver.

“Just because there aren’t that many citations doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen,” Burns said.

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