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Ready for the Road

Reforms at both ends of the driving spectrum - the youngest drivers and some of the most experienced - should make the roads safer for everyone.

Dozens of states are trying graduated licensing programs for teenagers. These demand more hours of supervised time behind the wheel and older age requirements before teens can receive full, unrestricted licenses. California's new system is fairly typical: Young drivers will have to hold a learner's permit longer, move on to a provisional licenses which prohibit solo driving from midnight to 5 a.m., and then earn a full license at 18, if they've been free of violations for a year.

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This approach may elicit a collective groan from the nation's teenagers. But its prime beneficiaries will be young drivers themselves, who now account for a disproportionate number of highway accidents in the US. Extra driving time in the company of experienced drivers will help them learn how to respond to difficult situations on the road. (Parents will have to take a more active interest in their teenager's progress.) The added year or two of personal growth and maturity will also be a plus.

At the opposite end of the experience scale are the nation's long-haul truckers. No one has more road savvy, but even the best-honed instincts are tested by continuous driving with little or no sleep. Federal prosecutors have either filed charges against or launched investigations of some 45 trucking companies suspected of flouting Federal HIghway Administration rules governing driving time and rest time.

Many truckers argue that current rules, in effect since 1939, are impractical. They require eight hours off after every 10 hours on the road. Trucking interests suggest hiking the required rest period to 10 hours. Other experts recommend 14 hours.

Whatever the final decision, heightened attention to rest rules is clearly called for. Many truck drivers have exemplary safety records, but too many of the mishaps involving trucks spring from overwork and sleepiness.

As with the teens, common sense dictates reform.

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