Teenage drivers in Iowa could soon look forward to spending more quality time with their parents in the car.
The Senate Transportation Committee approved a bill earlier this month that would require teens to spend 12 months under supervised driving before applying for an intermediate license — an expansion from the now-compulsory six-month period.
And local driver-education companies and some local teens said it may ultimately be for the best.
Some legislators said the proposed changes would reduce accident-related injuries and fatalities caused by young drivers. Expanding the time frame to one year also gives teenagers a chance to drive with their parents in all types of weather conditions.
“We want to make sure we’re giving them the most valuable opportunity to keep the roads safe,” said Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, the vice chairman of the Transportation Committee.
Ron Bandy, the owner and operator of Ron Bandy Driver Education, said he advocated teenage motorists spending more time under supervision.
“For the most part … they’re being turned loose a little premature, before they’ve developed the skills,” he said.
The North Liberty business owner said he’s seen several adolescents pass the driving course with only the state minimum of six hours behind the wheel, and he believes the proposed measure would result in safer drivers.
“They’ll get more experience with less risk,” Bandy said. “It’s a great idea.”
Some local high-school students said they oppose the bill but understand its necessity.
“It’s safer but lamer,” said City High sophomore Shayleigh Small.
The 15-year-old drives to school on a permit, but she said she did not want to spend more time with her parents to earn her “freedom.”
Junior Suzanne Wilson said the time demands of an extended supervision period could put a strain on families that have several commitments and two working parents.
“Parents might need the kid to drive themselves if they’re busy,” the 17-year-old said.
According to 2009 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics for Iowa, the number of drivers aged 15-20 involved in fatal accidents has decreased in recent years. In 2009, 62 teens were involved in fatal crashes, down from 86 in 2005.
Bowman said he believes the proposed 12-month period would ensure new drivers have supervision when transitioning to independent driving.
In addition to extending supervision, the bill would require drivers to be accident- and violation-free for 12 months before qualifying for a license. Beginning motorists would also not be allowed to have more than one other minor in the car, with the exception of siblings, for the first six months with an intermediate license.
Rep. David Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, said Gov. Terry Branstad would be likely receptive to the new bill, but it will have to pass the Senate and House before going to the governor.
The bill comes on the heels of a law implemented in 2010 banning teenagers from using cell phones while driving. Tjepkes said he thinks the restrictions might be too extensive to garner support in the state House of Representatives.
“I think we need to slow down and evaluate [the situation] before we’re too quick to propose changes,” he said.