DES MOINES—The push for "Nick's Law" started with plenty of emotion and political muscle.
The death of Nick Bisignano offered a textbook example of the tragic mix of underage drinking and speeding. The 17-year-old son of a former state lawmaker--a friend of the governor's--was killed a few miles from Iowa's Statehouse in a crash that generated extensive media coverage.
But as the Iowa Legislature adjourned Thursday, Nick's Law remained undone, the latest illustration of how proposals to toughen teen driving laws often fail to gather political support, even as experts say the changes could save lives.
In Iowa, the law included more than a half-dozen proposed restrictions--from prohibiting cell phone use to new seat-belt rules--each of which brought out opponents.
Parents expressed concern that an 11 p.m. driving curfew would prevent their children from even having a pizza after a football game. Others worried that restrictions on the number of passengers would prevent carpooling to school.
"All of the arguments boiled down to convenience versus safety," said Kevin Techau, Iowa's public safety commissioner, who lobbied for the bill.
The inaction has left Nick's father angry that others were not moved to press for change following the death of his son, a defensive back and third baseman who was planning to play college football.
"If 100 teen deaths a year in this state is acceptable, then they can ignore the proposals," said Tony Bisignano, seated near a portrait of his son that hangs above his home's fireplace. "But someone else is going to be in that 100 next year."
Responding to tragedy
Last year, lawmakers in nine states introduced bills to restrict nighttime teen driving hours, for example, but only one state passed such a law, according to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a lobbying group.
The effort behind Nick's Law started last fall over lunch between Bisignano and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat. "He said he wanted to put a face on this," Bisignano recalled.
In January, Vilsack prominently mentioned Nick during his State of the State address, as he called for added limits on teen drivers.
As proposed, Nick's Law would have prohibited people younger than 18 from driving after 11 p.m. and from talking on cell phones while at the wheel. It also would have boosted requirements for driver training, enhanced seat-belt rules, increased penalties for providing teens alcohol, required beer keg registration and limited teens to one non-family passenger.
In retrospect, the bill's backers say, it tried to do too much too fast, triggering a collapse under its own weight as numerous interests found something they did not like.
"It was just too heavy," said state Sen. Matt McCoy, the Democratic co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. "There were too many elements that were controversial."
The beer lobby worked behind the scenes to defeat the keg registration, even distributing a memo to key lawmakers with speaking points for opposition.
Traditional tensions over home schooling proved to be the fatal blow after a lawmaker attached a controversial amendment that would have allowed parents to provide their own driver instruction, just as they do with reading and math.
"I knew that was a poison pill that was not going to work," said state Rep. David Tjepkes, the Republican floor manager for the bill in the House.