The University Record, April 16, 1996

UMTRI director recommends graduated licensing

By Paula Saha
News and Information Services

In Michigan, as elsewhere in the United States, young beginning drivers are licensed to drive after only minimal classroom education and behind-the-wheel training, according to Patricia F. Waller, director of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). It's a system, she says, that violates everyt hing we know about learning.

Concert hall pianists start out playing simple exercises, she points out, yet in the one skill that accounts for the leading cause of death and disability among young people, practice requirements are minimal.

For this reason, Waller supports a graduated licensing system, currently up for debate in the state Senate.

The graduated licensing system involves three levels of licensing for teens under 18. Level one begins with a driving course three months before the prospective driver's 15th birthday, when the driver is permitted to drive with a parent or guardian. After six months at level one, which must include 50 hours of supervised driving, a road test, and a clean record (no moving violations), teens graduate to level two. This level requires parent or guardian supervision when teens are driving between midnight and 5 a.m. After turning 17, spending at least six months at level two, and having maintained a clean record for one year, teens achieve level three, full licensure.

Time is not a substitute for practice, says Waller, which is why raising the minimum licensing age, now 16, is not a solution. Waller says a graduated licensing system will cost money to implement, but she points out that according to the federal highway administration, on average, every motor vehicle fatality results in about $2.8 million in societal costs. In 1994, 134 Michigan drivers age 17 and under were fatally injured.

We need to recognize, says Waller, that if we are not willing to invest in the future, many of our young people will have no future.