Clark County teenagers learning to drive could get a little more room on the road under a program lawmakers in the House approved Friday.
“When I see a student driver in one of those vehicles that has a big placard that says ‘Student Driver,’ if you’re like me, you give those students a wide berth,” said Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas.
Pike introduced House Bill 1159, which passed the House 53-44 on Friday, establishing a pilot program in Clark County requiring drivers under the age of 18 to display a “New Driver” decal on their vehicles. If caught without a sticker, the young driver could be required to perform community service.
“The sole purpose is to reduce traffic fatalities and serious traffic accidents among our drivers,” Pike told her colleagues on the House floor Friday.
The measure was initially crafted to apply statewide but scaled down to apply only to Clark County drivers ages 16 to 18. Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, has agreed to team up with Pike, she said, to pass the decals out at high schools throughout the region. The stickers will also be available for $1.50 through the state’s Department of Licensing.
“If the pilot project demonstrates that positive results can be gained by reducing the horrendous number of highway accidents with our young drivers, the Legislature can revisit this program as a statewide effort,” Pike said. “I am horrified by the high number of teen fatalities and serious injury accidents on our roads. Today in Clark County, new, young drivers represent just 11 percent of all drivers, yet they are involved in a disproportionate number of accidents.”
While making her case in committee, Pike said a similar law passed in New Jersey in 2009 reduced the number of teenagers in car crashes by about 9.5 percent, or about 3,200 fewer crashes.
Shelly Baldwin, from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, spoke in support of the measure, noting the leading cause of death for those ages 16 to 25 years old is motor-vehicle crashes.
Rep. Mark Hargrove, R-Covington, asked Pike in committee how a sticker prevents an accident.
It’s “not a magic sticker?” he asked.
Pike said she believes it makes others on the road “more cognizant” and reminds others to drive defensively.
The idea behind the measure, Pike said, is “we want our children to outlive us.”
As a parent of twins, she said, once they returned home from an outing, “it was a really big relief when everyone was back in the driveway.”