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Parents, teens call for minimum license standards for young drivers

By Paul Courson, CNN

Washington (CNN) -- Safety advocates say state driving laws often fail to address special risk facing young drivers who get behind the wheel with little experience and a lot of responsibility.

Parents and teenagers Tuesday called on Congress to pass legislation that would establish federal licensing standards states could adopt as a way to cut fatalities.

The Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act, or STANDUP, draws attention to the concept of a graduated license, where young drivers are initially allowed on the roads with restrictions, such as daytime-only, or without any passengers along.

Seventeen-year-old Kaylen Larson says the idea is to "help teens become safe drivers by gradually introducing the responsibility of driving."

After a period of time, drivers are granted a full license. So far, only Delaware has met standards that include a minimum six-month waiting period with a restricted license, and requiring between 30-50 hours of supervised driving.

At a news conference urging progress on House and Senate legislation, co-sponsor Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said, "Every month that goes by is a month we could be saving lives." But lawmaking at the federal level is only half the job -- 49 states have not yet implemented such protection for their youngest drivers.

To address that delay, the proposed U.S. bill would withhold a certain amount of federal highway money to states that fail to put the standards into their driving law.

Most states have some type of provisional license, but not the proposed federal standards that would restrict teenage cellphone use while driving, impose restrictions against nighttime driving, and limit whether a teen driver can include a bunch of friends for the ride. Each situation is identified as a significant cause of accidents involving teenagers.

Some think the law makes things easier on teenagers as well as parents.

"Parents don't have to be the bad guys when they say, 'No you can't take your friends in the car,' or 'No, you can't drive late at night,' " said Bill Walter of Maryland, who lost his only child Matt in a 1999 car wreck.

Kaylan Larson, the 17-year-old, agrees.

"It's a lot easier to say no because of the law." She said her friends are more likely to accept the limitation "if it's for the law and not because you're saying 'No, I can't give you a ride.' "

Van Hollen did not provide a timetable as to when congressional lawmakers might move the House and Senate bills forward.