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As others see it: Young driver law needs teeth

The tragic loss of life from vehicle crashes involving young drivers has refocused attention on laws and parental responsibility.

Minnesota, after falling far behind many other states in protecting teens and other motorists, in 2008 tightened restrictions on the youngest drivers. It was a good start that needs to be built on.

No matter the laws, they are only as good as the adherence to them. A fiery crash near Cambridge that killed six people, involved a 16-year-old driver who violated several laws for new drivers.

The 2008 law says: motorists under 18 may not use cell phones or text while driving; during the first six months with a license, younger teens are prohibited from driving between midnight and 5 a.m.; and new drivers may not have more than one teenage passenger unless they are immediate family members.

But the laws can only be en-forced if the driver is pulled over for another "primary" offense, and fines are small.

Even with the limited law changes, serious crashes involving 16-year and 17-year-olds dropped nearly 18 percent in the following year. But other states have shown that tougher penalties can have a dramatic impact. ...

In Massachusetts, newly licensed drivers who carry too many passengers, speed or break other new-driver laws face fines in the hundreds of dollars, lose their license for 60 to 90 days and must pay $500 to get them reinstated.

The financial penalties -- and particularly the risk of losing driving privileges for a time -- caught the attention of young drivers there. In the three years after the stricter penalties, fatal crashes involving drivers under 18 fell 75 percent in Massachusetts. ...

The only way to ensure the youngest drivers become safer drivers is to give them the most protection we can while they gain the necessary experience.

The Free Press of Mankato