The Garden City Telegram
10/23/2012
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Safe path

Driver's license restrictions instrumental in safer travel.

New driver's license restrictions have Kansas headed in the right direction.

In January 2010, the state implemented a graduated driver's license law intended to give teen drivers more time to adjust to the responsibility of being behind the wheel.

Teenagers now must hold a learner's permit for 12 months before obtaining a restricted or full license. The law also includes limitations on late-night driving and the number of passengers allowed.

The Kansas Department of Transportation reported a sharp decline in the number of wrecks involving teenage drivers since the law went into effect. Accidents for drivers 14 through 16 years old dropped from more than 5,000 in 2004 and 2005 to fewer than 3,000 last year.

Other changes made before graduated licensing went into effect — a 2007 Kansas law that required 14- to 17-year-olds to wear seat belts, for example — also improved the situation at a time car crashes remain the leading cause of death among teens.

The push for new policies in Kansas has had safety advocates noting how such changes have led to fewer serious accidents, injuries and deaths in other states. The advocates usually include law enforcement officers and health-care workers who see firsthand the tragic fallout of accidents, and understandably push for safer travel.  

But even in the midst of those campaigns — and as the number of vehicles on the road increased in recent decades — Kansas legislators always seemed slow to update laws as a way to keep people on the road safe.

The absurd resistance in Kansas to a primary seat-belt law — one that now enables law enforcement officers to actually stop someone they observe not wearing a seat belt, which also encourages seat-belt use — was a prime example.

Too many lawmakers view stepped-up restrictions as government intrusion — even though governments have a responsibility to enact policies that keep people safe.

When considering safety-minded changes, lawmakers always should acknowledge how such strategies have reduced accidents and saved lives elsewhere, and let that drive their decision-making.

A welcome trend in fewer accidents involving teens in Kansas brought still more proof of the potential good in pursuing such measures.