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Girl, 6, crashes car: Can laws make young drivers safer?

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In 10 states and the District of Columbia, all drivers are prohibited from using hand-held cellphones while driving. The South Dakota legislature has repeatedly rejected measures to ban cellphone use or texting by all drivers, but members of the committee said it's time to take phones out of the hands of beginning drivers.

The committee also recommended that those with learners' permits should have to wait longer before driving unaccompanied. Another measure would set up a coordinated drivers' education system with statewide standards for course content, instruction, testing and certification of instructors.

The proposals, which now go to the full state senate, were recommended by a Teen Driving Task Force that was set up two years ago by the legislature.

Young drivers should not use cellphones because they are inexperienced and can have trouble dealing with distractions, said Tieszen, who chaired the task force. "Although some 14-year-olds are capable of taking on the complex task of driving, many are not," he added

The task force reported that South Dakota has a high rate of fatal crashes among young drivers, and young South Dakota drivers are more likely to have accidents than older drivers.

For example, motor vehicle crashes account for 44 percent of all deaths among South Dakota residents ages 14-17, but crashes are responsible for only 39 percent of deaths among that age group nationally. The state Public Safety Department reports that 16- and 17-year-old drivers represented just 2.7 percent of all South Dakota drivers in 2011, but accounted for 5.9 percent of crashes involving deaths or injuries.

Courtney Denett, a Rapid City high school student, urged the committee to pass the measure, saying a driver's eyes are off the road for at least five seconds while texting or otherwise dealing with a phone.

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