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Research group wants to change teen driving age

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

A national automobile-safety organization is making a case for a law change, which would inhibit the ability of many teenagers to obtain a driver's license.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is advocating state legislatures raise the age at which a person can get a license to 17 or 18.

Anne Fleming is a spokesperson for IIHS, a research group which receives funding from the auto-insurance industry. She said the effort is the result of a study comparing teen driving practices in Connecticut, in which the driving age is 16, and New Jersey, which requires teens to wait until they turn 17.

"What we found is that fatal crashes involving 16- and 17-year-olds are lower in New Jersey," said Fleming. "By raising the driving age to 17, [states] could reduce the number of fatal crashes by as much as 66 percent."

The IIHS spokesperson said the proposed measure has gained support from law-enforcement personnel in various areas. Still, she noted that the concept has its share of nay-sayers. "When you get right down to it, [the opposition] is coming from 15-year-olds," said Fleming. "What we have found is that parents are largely in favor of raising the driving age. They say that it takes the pressure off them for denying their children a license to drive earlier."

Legislation has been introduced in several states in recent years, including Georgia and Florida, proposing the change which IIHS is seeking. However, each of those measures has been unsuccessful thus far, said Fleming.

Currently, a teenager can drive at 15 with a learner's permit, when accompanied by an adult. Sixteen-year-olds in Georgia must pass a driving test and complete a driver's education program and 40 hours of supervised driving, prior to obtaining a license.

Bert Brantley, spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue, said Georgia's current driving age represents a "reasonable system" within the state. Still, he said the governor is open to looking at IIHS's research, to evaluate the need for a change in the law. "As far as we know, there is not currently a move afoot within the state legislature, to alter the driving age in Georgia," said Brantley. "If this issue does come up, the governor will listen to all sides of the argument, and make a decision at that point on whether or not he would be supportive of an idea like this."

Susan Sports is a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Driver Services, which issues all driver's licenses in the state. She said the state already has a "staggered" process by which the agency operates, adding the DDS has "no control" over the driving age itself.

Sports declined to make a statement regarding the driving age in Georgia.