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Kansas teens' lives saved by seat belts, graduated licensing

Kansas transportation officials believe there are two reasons linked to fewer motor vehicle accidents -- the two-year-old graduated drivers' licensing program and a concerted effort to get teens to buckle up.

Auto accidents among 14-to-16-year-olds in the middle of the last decade were above 5,000. The rate of teen-related car accidents fell below 3,000 last year throughout the state. The number of young teenage drivers who lost their lives in car crashes dropped significantly after the graduated license program was enacted. An average of 22 teens died annually from 2004 to 2009, the year before the program began. In 2010, 15 teen fatalities were recorded. Last year, the figure dropped to nine.

Kansas teenager receive driving permits as early as age 14, but the drivers must have a full year of experience before upgrading to a restricted or restriction-free driver's license. License restrictions include supervised driving only to schools and workplaces.

Sixteen-year-olds with licenses have limitations for the use of cellphones, the number and age of passengers and nighttime driving restrictions. Observers think that having a parent along to supervise teenage road trips has helped student's gain valuable driving experience.

Kansas authorities are also confident that the increased use of seat belts among teens has helped keep young drivers safer. Schools offer rewards to students who pledge to buckle up while driving. The Kansas Highway Patrol reported that the average seat belt compliance rate among participating school was 82 percent, compared to a rate of less than 74 percent a few years ago.

With all the good news about teen driving statistics, some transportation officials are pushing for even safer highway numbers.

Some safe driving advocates would like to see the state raise the minimum driving age from 14 to 16 years of age, as other states have already done. Fourteen is considered by most state officials as an acceptable driving age in Kansas because it is predominantly rural.

Source: kansascity.com, "Graduated licensing makes driving safer for Kansas teens," Hurst Laviana, Oct. 20, 2012

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