INDIANAPOLIS -- A bill that would ban teenage drivers from using cell phones and texting passed the state Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday.
The panel voted 9-1 to endorse the bill and send it to the full Senate for consideration.
"Kids probably aren't going to like it, but it is a good thing to toughen it up. They need to enforce it if it passes," said Greencastle State Farm Agent Allen Williams.
The bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Travis Holdman of Markle would ban drivers under age 18 from talking on a cell phone or texting while behind the wheel.
Other items in the bill include adding six months to the eligibility age for a learner's permit, a driver's license with driver's education and a license without driver's education.
It also adds at least 50 hours of practice including 10 at night, with a parent or other licensed driver age 25 years or older. Teens will not be allowed to carry passengers for the first six months after getting a license or drive late at night,
Insurance Associations and even the AAA Hoosier Motor Club is jumping on board the movement to improve the law and hopefully reduce the fatality rate among teens.
According to AAA both nationally and in Indiana, nearly two of every three people killed in teen-driver crashes are people other than the teen driver.
More than 150 Hoosier teen drivers lost their lives in fatal crashes in Indiana in 2007.
"Anything that will improve the driving ability of kids is good," said Williams.
"I used to watch kids get their license and wreck their cars in the first year then it dropped to the first week. Kids have faster reactions than adults and they over-react. It's a lack of experience," he added.
Many other states have tighter restrictions, including license age minimums as high as 18.
Unfinished neurological development and plain inexperience make teen drivers more susceptible to distractions and more prone to accidents, the experts say.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in the past years, 4,544 teens ages 16 to 19 died of injuries caused by motor vehicle crashes.
In the same year, nearly 400,000 motor vehicle occupants in this age group sustained nonfatal injuries that required treatment in an emergency department.
In recent years, legislation requiring child restraints, set belts in pickup trucks and a lower red line for intoxication have overcome heavy opposition in the state.
The only "no" vote on Tuesday came from Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, who said that as a father with five daughters, he would like to see the bill say that cell use in an emergency is OK.
Sen. Holdman, who sponsored the bill, said the only criticism he has heard from the public on the bill is that it doesn't go far enough and should ban drivers from using cell phones, regardless of age.