In the past few months, Pennsylvania has experienced several tragic losses of teenagers through vehicle crashes. Unfortunately, most of us can think of one specific accident that hit close to home. Maybe it was a group of teens in a nearby town, from the local high school, or a friend or family member. If it seems to happen all too often, that is because it does. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 16 to 20-year-olds.

In its 2010 Crash Facts and Statistics Report, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation notes that 17- and 18-year-old drivers are more than twice as likely to get in accidents than drivers over the age of 30. 16-year-old drivers, however, are much less likely than 17- and 18-year-olds to get into accidents due to the mandatory six month waiting period between obtaining a Learner’s Permit and a license. Recognizing this positive correlation between reduced accidents and extended learning periods for new drivers, Pennsylvania enacted a new teen driving law, Act 81 of 2011.

The table below outlines the stated objectives of Act 81 and the corresponding changes that went into effect on December 27, 2011:


 Act 81 Objectives

Changes for Teen Drivers

  • Increased motor vehicle safety through comprehensive training of new drivers.
  • 65 behind-the-wheel, supervised hours for drivers with learner’s permits, including 10 hours of nighttime driving and 5 hours in inclement weather.
  • Former requirement: 50 supervised hours.
  • Reduction of young driver distraction by limiting the number of passengers a new driver may carry.
  • For six months after receiving their junior driver license, teens may have no more than one passenger under age 18, who is not an immediate family member, in their vehicle unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
  • No former junior license passenger restrictions.
  • Improvement of general highway safety through heightened passenger restraint laws.
  • Anyone under the age of 18 who fails to wear a seat belt in a vehicle will be guilty of a primary offense, which means that they can be pulled over and cited solely for that violation.
  • Formerly not a primary offense.

Because Act 81 was implemented approximately one month ago, the impact it will have on teen driving accidents and fatalities remains to be seen. Similar programs in other states have proven successful. In Wisconsin, a graduated license program that went into effect in 2000 has correlated with a drop in teen fatalities in the state. Connecticut toughened its driving laws in 2008 and also saw improvements in teen driver safety. It is possible that the new teen driving laws in Pennsylvania will follow suit and play a role in reducing tragedies on our roadways.

Derek Dissinger is a lawyer at Russell, Krafft and Gruber LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Duquesne University and practices in a variety of areas.