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Make the roads safer

The Pennsylvania Senate last week voted overwhelmingly for teen driver safety rules that fall well short of what's needed to stem the needless sacrifice of young lives each year on the state's highways.

Does that represent the best Harrisburg can do right now?

That's the question before safety advocates and leaders in the state House, who favor stronger restrictions on teen drivers talking on cell phones, complying with seat-belt laws, and chauffeuring friends around town.

A House-approved measure would limit under-18 drivers to one nonfamily passenger — a key safety move, since teen drivers are at far greater risk of a serious or even fatal crash from distractions. The House also provides that police can stop teens solely on the basis of using a handheld phone or failing to buckle up.

But senators, by a vote of 44-3, approved a version of the House bill that is so watered down that the original sponsor no longer supports it. The debate in Harrisburg seems to turn on whether to stress personal responsibility or the stricter House rules that acknowledge teen drivers' judgment is still evolving.

Trouble is, the Republican-controlled Senate effectively guts enforcement of the phone and seat belt rules for teens. It makes those infractions only a secondary offense — meaning police would have to stop a motorist for some other violation first.

The Senate also frees young drivers from any limits on passengers after only six months with a clean driving record. Contrast that with new rules limiting New Jersey teens to one ride-along companion during their first year.

It would be best if House and Senate leaders could reach a compromise that adopted tougher teen driving rules. But even the Senate-approved driving rules would be a step toward keeping young motorists safe.