Bill to limit teen drivers' licenses stalls

Weyhrauch's legislation would require teens to drive under restricted license for six months

Posted: Wednesday, January 28, 2004

For Chelsea Walker, 16, getting a driver's license is a "really big thing."

It will allow her to get to her job at Claire's Boutiques in the Nugget Mall, school dances and football games without help from her parents.

But as a sophomore at Juneau-Douglas High School, she recognizes the potential such responsibility has for disaster with some of her peers.

That's why she said she supports a proposal in the Legislature to restrict driving for teenagers.

Juneau Republican Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch's House Bill 213 would require teens to get a provisional driver's license after turning 16 and drive with a learner's permit for six months.

A parent or guardian would have to certify that the teenager has spent at least 50 hours behind the wheel, 10 at night. And the driver must have a clean driving record.

With the provisional driver's license, the driver is prohibited from driving between 1 and 5 a.m. and passengers must be 21 or over. Two siblings also would be allowed in the car under the provisional license.

As long as the teen does not receive a traffic conviction within the six-month provisional period, the driver can then apply for an unrestricted license.

Weyhrauch says states such as Florida have implemented graduated driver's license laws and reduced the number of teenager automobile accidents by 21 percent.

Walker agrees that the law would help, but she sees things a bit differently the Weyhrauch.

"It's gonna suck," she said. "We're not going to like it, but it will save a lot of lives."

She said she's talked with many of her classmates about the graduated license plan, and that some kids agree with it but not all of them.

Brian Maller, a 16-year-old sophomore at JDHS who has not received his license yet, said he thinks the plan goes overboard.

"It's good to have the freedom to take yourself wherever you want," Maller said.

The National Transportation Safety Board, an independent federal agency that investigates accident rates in various modes of transportation across the nation, has endorsed the concept, along with insurance companies and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Cindy Cashen, executive director of the Juneau chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the bill is MADD's top priority this session.

She said 38 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and New Zealand have passed some form of graduated driver's license laws.

"It would be nice if Alaska wasn't one of the last states that did it," she said.

Sheldon Winters, a lobbyist and legal counsel for State Farm Insurance, told the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday that there is a disproportionate amount of accident claims for drivers between the ages of 16 and 18.

According to the state Department of Transportation, as drivers grow older, the likelihood that they will be involved in an accident declines steadily.

Just under 7,000 people between the ages of 16 and 20 were involved in traffic accidents in 2001. Comparatively, 4,180 were involved in accidents between 21 and 25, and 3,101 were between the ages of 26 and 30.

Winters didn't have specifics on how much insurance rates might drop under a graduated driver's license system, but he noted that insurance rates drop with experience and that fewer claims generally result in lower rates.

"This bill, while it may have the possible effect of lowering insurance rates, it's not about insurance rates, it's about lives and safety," Winters said.

Some members of the committee requested technical changes to the bill, stalling a vote on the measure.

Committee member Rep. Bev Masek, a Willow Republican, sat quietly through the testimony Tuesday afternoon.

"All too often government is trying to take over parenting rules," she said following the committee hearing. "If it isn't broken, why fix something that isn't broken?"

But Weyhrauch said the bill simply aims to give parents guidance and to help prevent unnecessary accidents.

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