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Hultgren tackles teen driving laws on national level

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

GENEVA — Eighteen years ago, Sasha Bigola’s 16-year-old brother got behind the wheel of his car to visit his girlfriend and never came home.

The teenage driver, who received his license just six days before he died in a single-vehicle accident, was one of the 4,000 teenagers who each year lose their lives on American’s highways.

Prompted by that startling statistic, U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren announced Wednesday that he will be the lead Republican sponsor on legislation to protect drivers through the nationwide adoption of Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) laws.

The Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act of 2011 will urge all states to adopt GDL laws within three years. These laws, which have already been passed in Illinois, will require new and novice drivers to adhere to specific regulations in the early stages of their driving careers.

These regulations include restricting the number of passengers in a vehicle, prohibiting nonemergency use of cell phones, and limiting nighttime driving during the learner’s permit and intermediate stages of receiving a license.

GDL laws also require a three-stage licensing process, which segue from the learner’s permit to the intermediate stage and into an unrestricted driver’s license phase.

“Today is my son’s (17th) birthday,” Hultgren, a Winfield Republican, said during a press conference at Geneva High School. “I have gone through GDL with him and am confident that he is a much better driver at his age than I was at 17.”

Hultgren said Graduated Driver’s License laws are a proven way to prevent teen driving fatalities, which are the No. 1 cause of death among teens in the U.S.

“With every life we save, this is worth it,” he said. “Even if we save just one life — although I think it will save thousands.”

For Sasha Bigola, who now works to prevent teen driving deaths with AllState, the legislation couldn’t come soon enough.

“My parents and I have been talking about this since Erinn died,” she said of her brother’s traffic death. “If this legislation can prevent anyone from going through what we experienced then it is worth it. …

“I think about picking up the phone every day to call my brother. This law would have given Erinn extra time to perfect his driving skills.”

Bigola said she is confident that the Graduated Driver’s License process would have prevented her brother’s fatal accident.

“Had he had more experience, I’m confident he would be here today,” she said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 90,000 Americans were killed in car crashes involving teen drivers in the last decade. That total amounts to an average of 155 preventable deaths every week.

“… Teen drivers comprise only 7 percent of drivers on the road, yet 20 percent of all highway fatalities occur in crashes involving teen drivers,” Hultgren said. “Action must be taken to educate teen drivers and protect everyone on our nation’s roadways.”

Though the law is in its very beginning stages, Hultgren remains optimistic that it will ultimately be passed. Hultgren plans on taking the legislation to the Transportation Committee where he can build up co-sponsors, and eventually pass the bill onto the full House.

“We’ll just keep working as hard as we can to build up support,” he said. “We have a law that will absolutely save lives.”

For more information on Illinois’ GDL, visit

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