Stricter driving requirements debated

State legislators are calling on some stricter driving requirements because of teen drivers like Andy Bockelman.

Six months after the Moffat County High School senior got his license at age 16, he totaled his car when he hit another vehicle in an intersection.

"I wasn't paying attention," he said.

The incident so scarred the teen that he walks to school these days.

Colorado lawmakers have proposed increasing the driving age, among other measures, in hopes of staving off teen driving accidents.

Rep. Gayle Berry, R-Grand Junction, drafted a bill that would raise the driving age to 16 unless a teen has driver training, then a teen could drive six months after they turned 15.

Berry's measure would also require anyone under 18 to hold a learner's driving permit for 12 months instead of six, before getting a regular driver's license.

Rep. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora initiated a bill that would ban drivers under 18 from transporting minors in their first six months of driving, unless there is another driver at least 21 in the vehicle. That proposal allows some exceptions for family and work.

And another bill by Rep. Mike Garcia, D-Aurora bars anyone with a learner's permit from using a cell phone while driving.

State Senator Jack Taylor of Steamboat Springs said he agreed with the notion of trying to make more teens safe on the road, but driving is a necessity for many rural Colorado teens.

"Many rural kids have a better sense of driving because they've grown up with agriculture," he said.

Teens here have the experience of driving tractors and using machinery at young ages, he said.

And they may need to drive to get to school. Increasing the driving age would make more of a burden on parents, Taylor said.

But, getting teen drivers to slow down isn't a bad idea, he countered.

"We always have that accident that's tragic when it happens," Taylor said. "I think we should impress upon kids to drive slower and keep it under control."

Moffat County High School offers a driver's education course but students aren't required to take it.

Across the state, 16-year-old drivers have the highest crash rate of any age group. They are nearly three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than all Colorado drivers.

According to the National Safety Council, about 20 percent of 16-year-olds will be involved in a car crash during their first year of driving.

Those statistics resonate with junior Kaylee Perry, who knows students who've been involved in car accidents. Yet the 16-year-old likes the freedom of driving.

"You don't want your parents to have to drive you around," she said.

After having the experience of an accident early on his driving career, Bockelman didn't think increasing the driving age "is such a bad idea."

"I've been with people who probably shouldn't have been driving," he said, noting one friend who purposefully weaves through traffic in city limits.

"I had an accident a couple years ago and I've been nervous ever since," he said.

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