Harvard News 4/25/83–Editorial – NEW DMV RESTRICTIONS DISCRIMINATE
By E. Randol Schoenberg, Editor-in-Chief
In Sacramento, the California State Legislature is attempting to pass restrictive legislation on 16 and 17 year old drivers. Their plans include a midnight-to-5 A.M. curfew, mandatory seat belt use, and a “provisional license.” The provisional license would allow the DMV to suspend a person’s license for six months, or put the driver on probation for violation of the curfew and belt laws. The provisional licenses will be more difficult to get than the licenses given out today. They will require more on-the-road training, an addition of ten questions to the thirty-six question driver’s tests, and closer inspection during the driving tests.
To justify the crackdown on young drivers, the DMV reported that, “while 16-and 17-year-olds make up only 2.5% of the drivers in California, this age group is responsible for 14.3% of the traffic accidents.” However, they forget to realize that 16- and 17-year olds are by definition first and second year drivers. It is obviously more likely for beginning drivers of any age to get into an accident. The DMV and the Legislature mistakenly perceive the driver’s age, rather than his experience as the cause for the high accident rate.
This sort of restriction, one that singles out a specific group for its part of a problem while ignoring other groups, is discriminatory. Using statistics, the Legislature could continue to restrict specific groups from privileges that others are allowed, thereby violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
Belt laws and harder driving tests are not bad ideas. But they should apply to all drivers instead of just one small group. The curfew has been found constitutional, but the logic behind it is faulty. The purpose of the curfew is to keep 16- and 17-year olds off the streets to avoid accidents that often occur at that time. The DMV cites a study on four states with a curfew. The study noted a “substantial” reduction in accidents at that time. There is no doubt that this is true. But the cause of the reduction in accidents was obviously due to the decrease in drivers on the road at that time. If the goal is to reduce the number of car accidents, the Legislature should prohibit all driving. Then there would be “substantial” reduction in car accidents.
The main cause of the accidents involving 16- and 17-year olds and the main cause for this new legislation, however, is young motorists driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It may be true that high school students are more reckless and more likely to drive under the influence, but whether it is true or not, the number of accidents caused by alcohol and drugs are appallingly high for 16- and 17-year olds. In 1981, 2056 drivers under eighteen were involved in alcohol-related fatal and injury crashes. If the statistics continue to find more young drivers involved in accidents, driving privileges will be taken away. Every student’s chance to enjoy the freedom of being able to drive is jeopardized by each person who endangers themselves and others by driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It is up to us to prove that we are responsible enough to drive and drive safely.