Back-Seat Driver

A legislator lost his daughter in a crash. He doesn’t want others to feel that pain

A California legislator wants tougher licensing rules on 18 to 20 year olds.
A California legislator wants tougher licensing rules on 18 to 20 year olds. AP

Nearly two decades ago, Jim Frazier’s 20-year-old daughter Stephanie was killed in a head-on car crash near Pollock Pines. His younger daughter, Lindsey, was critically injured.

It devastated Frazier. It pushed him into politics. And it has led him to sponsor one of the most potentially far-reaching bills in the state Legislature this year.

Assembly Bill 63 requires new drivers under 21 years old to take lessons and adhere to driving restrictions during their first year on the road.

Currently, the state only requires beginning drivers under age 18 to take driver training classes, obtain a learner’s permit and practice under adult supervision before getting their license.

The law also prohibits those under-18 teens from driving with other teens in the car during their first year of driving unless someone 25 or older is also in the car. It also prohibits them from driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Frazier’s bill will extend those rules, slightly amended, to all rookie drivers under age 21.

The bill is based on a few notable recent trends in California and in other states.

An estimated one-third of California teens now wait until at least age 18 to drive. That’s partly because few high schools offer driver education anymore. When they do get their license at age 18, they can do it without taking any training, and they don’t have to deal with any license restrictions.

Crash data suggest that is a recipe for trouble.

California data shows that 17-year-old drivers were at fault in 2,200 injury crashes curing a recent year. That number jumped to 4,200 for 18-year-old motorists, and increased more for 19-year-old drivers. After age 21, the crash numbers slowly tail off for each additional year a person drives.

Frazier, an assemblyman representing parts of Solano and Contra Costa counties, is among those who say the state is funneling untrained and inexperienced drivers into an increasingly complex driving environment that includes distractions such as cellphones.

Frazier says the bill is the most important legislation he has carried.

“I lost my child in a car accident,” he said. “It is one of the most important things to me that others don’t experience that horrific occurrence in their life.”

This is the second time Frazier has attempted to pass a licensing bill for older teens. The first time around in 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it, saying it was too restrictive, and asking for more analysis, Frazier said.

Since then, momentum has grown in California and nationwide for driver training and temporary provisional licenses for older teens.

California’s formal state Strategic Highway Safety Plan now calls for extending training and restrictions on all new drivers under age 21. New Jersey and Maryland have enacted similar laws. And the national Governors Highway Safety Association now recommends that states require driver training for beginners under 21.

Frazier has eased off some earlier restrictions in his bill. It no longer applies to active duty military personnel. The bill includes school-, work- and family-necessity waivers. Also, under the Frazier bill, while beginner drivers under age 18 must hold a learner’s permit for six months before getting a license, rookie drivers between 18 and 21 need only wait two months after they get their learner’s permit to get a full license.

Frazier said his older daughter did not get her license until she was 18, and she didn’t get the kind of training he wants to require for all California teens.

“She really could have used that,” he says.

Did you know that when you send or receive a text you take your eyes off the road for 5 seconds? At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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