Minnesota's teen-driving death toll was so grim last summer that a number of metro churches asked parishioners to pray for young people behind the wheel. In a two-week stretch as June turned into July, seven teens died in traffic accidents. Three more were seriously injured.
The father of one of the victims, a 15-year-old girl killed in a rollover on Interstate 35E in Vadnais Heights, was stunned to learn that Minnesota is one of the deadliest states for teen drivers. The state has one of the nation's highest percentages of fatal crashes involving teen drivers: 1 of every 6 involves drivers under 19. We're also one of just four states without restrictions on night-time driving or the number of passengers in a vehicle.
The state needs to crack down on teen drivers, Ron Anderson told Star Tribune reporter Kevin Duchschere shortly after the tragic accident involving his daughter, Samantha Kelly. "It should be a no-brainer.''
Anderson was right. And the state is just steps away from strengthening teen driving laws badly in need of bulking up. On Thursday, the Minnesota House easily passed a bill that would bar teens from driving between midnight and 5 a.m. during their first six months of holding a license, with some exceptions. It would also limit how many people a newly licensed driver could have in the car during the first year behind the wheel. The Senate is set to vote this week. Through his spokesman, the governor said he favors some additional protections.
Rarely do lawmakers consider a bill that is, to use Anderson's words, such a "no brainer.'' The restrictions make eminent sense. More important, they work. In other states, similar laws have helped cut teen-related crashes by up to 40 percent. Before any more young lives are lost, Minnesota should toughen laws that should have been addressed long ago.
Objections to the proposed restrictions come mostly from outstate legislators. In rural areas, many miles often lie between teens and schools or destinations like movie theaters. Teen driving restrictions could inconvenience parents, some claim. Other objections come from those who believe parents -- not legislators -- should set these kinds of driving rules.
The bill accommodates many of these concerns. Siblings don't count toward the passenger limit. And, nighttime driving exceptions are made for teens with school or work responsibilities. The bill would also provide sensible parameters for family driving discussions and reinforce safety decisions made by moms and dads.
Minnesota has already taken steps to protect young drivers from cell phones and text messaging distractions. Additional restrictions on nighttime driving and passenger limits will save lives. Continued prayers for teen safety are always welcome. The state, however, can and should do more.