SD panel recommends restrictions on young drivers


PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota should prohibit young drivers from using cellphones while behind the wheel and make those with learners’ permits wait longer before driving unaccompanied by an adult, a state panel recommended Monday. The Teen Driving Task Force, created by the Legislature, also recommended setting up a coordinated drivers’ education system with statewide standards for course content, instruction, testing and certification of instructors. The panel’s recommendations will be submitted to the 2013 session of the South Dakota Legislature, which convenes in January. Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, chair of the task force, said the panel is seeking ways to save lives and reduce serious traffic crashes by teen drivers. “There really is a purpose in what we’re doing here,” Tieszen told other members of the task force, which includes lawmakers, law enforcement officers, state officials and teen safety advocates. Task force members said South Dakota has one of the nation’s highest rates of fatal crashes among young drivers, and young South Dakota drivers are more likely to have accidents than older drivers are. For example, 16- and 17-year-old drivers represented just 2.7 percent of all South Dakota drivers in 2011, but accounted for 5.9 percent of crashes involving deaths or injuries, according to the state Public Safety Department. South Dakota law allows instruction permits to be issued at age 14, the youngest age in the nation for driving while accompanied by an adult, most often a parent. Those young drivers can graduate to restricted permits that allow them to drive alone in the daytime after six months, or just 90 days if they have completed a drivers’ education course. The task force is recommending that beginning drivers should have to keep instruction permits for a year before moving to restricted permits that allow them to drive alone. Those who complete drivers’ education courses could move to restricted permits after nine months. Young drivers can get regular licenses at 16 if they pass a written test and a driving test and have no traffic violations in the past six months. Those provisions would not be changed by the task force’s recommendations. Susan Randall of South Dakota Voices for Children said evidence suggests it would be best to make teens wait until age 16 to begin driving, but Tieszen said the Legislature would never support that. He said lawmakers are more likely to accept the plan to extend the time 14-year-olds have learners’ permits. Another proposal would prevent those with instruction or restricted permits from using cellphones or other electronic devices while driving. The Legislature has rejected bills to ban texting while driving in recent years, but task force members said lawmakers might impose restrictions on teen drivers. The task force also will recommend limits on the number of unrelated minors who can be passengers in a car driven by a teen with a restricted permit. Those limits would be eased for trips to school or school events. Melanie Castellano-Swanson of Forest Lake, Minn., asked the task force Monday to raise South Dakota’s minimum driving age. She said her adult son was killed Christmas Eve by a 15-year-old South Dakota boy who ran a red light at 85 mph. “We’re hoping you guys are going to make some restrictions,” she said. “It’s just not my son. It’s your own children that are being killed, too.”