By JOSEPH SPECTOR
Gannett Albany Bureau
ALBANY _ Teenage drivers will have more restrictions on their licenses starting Monday under a new state law.
Teenage drivers with a learner's permit - which can be obtained at age 16 -- will have to wait six months before they can schedule a road test for a license. The law also increases from 20 hours to 50 hours --including 15 hours at night -- the amount of driving that a parent or guardian needs to verify before a teenage driver can get a license.
Lastly, drivers with a junior license or junior permit will be limited to one non-family passenger under the age of 21 in the vehicle unless they are accompanied by an adult.
"Car crashes are the leading cause of death and injury for teenagers, and graduated licensing systems that meet certain criteria have proven to reduce fatalities and crashes," said John Corlett, legislative committee chairman for AAA New York.
Irene Scruton, president of the central and western New York chapter of the National Safety Council, said people aged 16 to 24 make up about 16 percent of all drivers in New York, but accounted for about 26 percent of all injuries and fatalities in automobile accidents in 2008.
Accidents involving youth also rise depending on whether they have friends in the vehicle, she said. A report in 2001 from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that crash rates nearly doubled with ever additional teenage passenger.
State lawmakers and Gov. David Paterson enacted the law last year as part of a larger driver-safety program that also included a ban on texting while driving, which took effect in November.
Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman David Gantt, D-Rochester, said the tougher teen driving laws will hopefully protect everyone on the roadways.
In 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 16-year-old drivers have crash rates about three times greater than those aged 17 and five times greater than those aged 18.
"What we did is try to help them so they don't get injured, but also to keep them from injuring other people," Gantt said.
By requiring parents to sign off on the hours driven by a teenager before they get their license, it also empowers parents, said David Swarts, commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
"Implied in this is that parents or guardians have a much stronger commitment and responsibility to make sure they are major players in ensuring that the kids have the skill set they need to drive on the road," he said.
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