Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey today expressed his strong support for legislation that would establish a graduated licensing system for teenager drivers in the District of Columbia.
Under the Safe Teenage Driving Amendment Act, sponsored by Ward 3 Councilmember Kathleen Patterson, teen drivers in the District would continue to receive their driver's permits at age 16, but would face a series of graduated restrictions on their driving privileges until age 18. These restrictions would include limits on night-time driving and the presence of teenage passengers, as well as requirements for training and supervised driving. Councilmember Patterson called the proposal the nation's most comprehensive graduated licencing law; 32 states, including Maryland and Virginia, currently have some form of graduated licensing system, according to the Automobile Association of America. The DC law would take effect early in January 2000, if enacted.
Chief Ramsey issued the following statement in support of graduated licensing during a news conference at the National Press Club:
"As Chief of Police, I support graduated licensing for teenage drivers for a simple reason: this law will save lives and improve safety on our streets.
"It is an unfortunate fact, but young drivers are disproportionately involved in fatal and injury-producing traffic crashes, both nationally and here in the District of Columbia. Teenagers represent about 5 percent of all licensed drivers, but they are involved in 10 to 15 percent of all fatal auto crashes. Research studies also show that 16- to 19-year-old drivers are four times more likely than older drivers to be involved in any traffic crash.
"These statistics are sobering, and we—as police officers, elected representatives and public policy experts—need to do something about changing them. A graduated licensing program for drivers under the age of 18 is an important step in that direction, I believe. I commend Councilmember Patterson for her leadership on this issue, and the Metropolitan Police Department looks forward to helping you implement this important public safety initiative.
"My decision to support this legislation is not based solely on numbers and statistics. As a police officer of more than 30 years, I know all too well the pain and agony of family members when young people are involved in traffic crashes. I also know that many of these crashes can be prevented, if we enact common-sense measures such as graduated licensing and related provisions.
"For example, we know that teenage drivers are involved in far too many crashes in which other teenages—but no adults—are present in the vehicle as passengers. We can help prevent these crashes by requiring greater adult supervision of young drivers and by placing reasonable passenger restrictions on them, as this legislation does.
"We know that many fatal teen crashes occur late at night and early in the morning. Drivers ages 16 to 19 log just 18 percent of their miles between the hours of 9 pm and 6 am, but 45 percent of the fatal crashes in which they are involved occur during this time period. We can prevent injuries and death by restricting teen driving during these periods, as Councilmember Patterson's proposal would do.
"And we know that many crashes involving teen drivers are single-vehicle incidents in which the driver—not weather, road conditions or other external factors—is squarely at fault. Again, greater adult involvement, as called for in this legislation, can help prevent these types of crashes from occurring.
"The Safe Teenage Driving Act will be another tool, and a very important tool, in the Metropolitan Police Department's comprehensive traffic safety strategy. Other elements of our strategy include the following:
- "The MPDC is aggressively enforcing the most comprehensive safety belt law in the nation, and helping to educate the public about its benefits.
- "A law, recently enacted by the DC Council, has lowered the legal threshold of drunken driving to a blood alcohol concentration of .08.
- "We are actively participating in a regional enforcement initiative to reduce aggressive driving. The MPDC issued more than 2,000 Notices of Infraction during a week-long campaign in April targeting aggressive driving.
- "We will soon be installing "red light cameras" and other automated traffic enforcement strategies that can prevent crashes and save lives.
- "And we are participating in community-based initiatives such as the anti-gridlock and no-red-light-running campaigns, now under way in our two downtown-area Business Improvement Districts. We hope to replicate these efforts in other parts of the District.
"Independent studies have shown that restrictions on teenage driving can reduce—and reduce dramatically—traffic crashes involving young people, by as much as 50 percent in some jurisdictions. We look forward to this common-sense legislation having a similar, positive impact here in the District of Columbia. That will mean fewer lives lost, fewer serious injuries and greater safety for the motoring public, especially our youth."
For additional information about the Safe Teenage Driving Amendment Act, contact:
Office of Councilmember