Driving is a big responsibility. Once you step inside a vehicle there is the potential to not only harm yourself and your passengers, but also those you share the roadway with. Thatís why I supported a new law allowing motorists under 18 to learn the rules of the road at a pace that ensures they are better prepared for this serious responsibility (Chap. 644 of 2002).
Starting in September, drivers under the age of 18 who apply for a learnerís permit will be required to hold the permit for a minimum of six months and obtain 20 supervised hours before they would be eligible to take a road test and obtain a junior license. Teens who receive their learnerís permit before September will not be required to abide by these regulations, but they and all other permit holders and junior licensees under 18 will have to follow a few new rules to help ensure they become safe, reliable drivers. This new law includes:
- Allowing only two passengers who are not immediate family members unless the young driver is accompanied by a parent, guardian, driverís education teacher, or driving instructor;
- Suspending a graduated license upon a serious violation, and revoking it upon a second violation within six months of the first; and
- Requiring the driver and all passengers to use seatbelts and/or child safety seats.
The law also creates a "limited class" junior license, which is available prior to the end of the six month holding period allowing young drivers to drive to and from school, work, day care and medical appointments ó or anywhere accompanied by a parent.
Keeping drunk drivers off the road
Alcohol-related deaths are a national epidemic. In fact, 17,419 people died last year in preventable alcohol-impaired tragedies, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. To curb drunk driving and save hundreds of lives, I sponsored a law lowering the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level from .10 percent to .08 percent (Chap. 3 of 2002). The law took effect July 1, 2003.
I also supported Seanís Law allowing a judge to suspend a learnerís permit or junior license immediately after a minorís first court appearance for Driving While Intoxicated Ė rather than waiting until after the arraignment. It also requires the court to more quickly notify a parent or guardian of a minor arrested for DWI or Driving While Ability Impaired (Chap. 571 of 2002).
The law, which took effect in December of 2002, is named for 17-year-old Sean Patrick French, who was killed in a car accident in which another 17-year-old was charged with drunk driving. The driver was already awaiting arraignment on a DWAI charge from just two weeks earlier.
Inexperience and immaturity heighten the risk of teenagers getting in automobile accidents and making poor choices when it comes to drinking and driving. Driving is one of the biggest responsibilities teens have to deal with and it is up to us to ensure they realize that with this freedom comes a strict set of rules. I will continue fighting to safeguard our roadways, and work to ensure our teens realize that driving is an adult responsibility.