Bill would delay driver's licenses for teenagers

Posted: Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Alaska teenagers ready to hit the road with their first unrestricted driver's license would have to wait an extra year under a bill under consideration by the Legislature.

The graduated driver's license bill by Juneau Republican Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch establishes a three-tiered system for when, where and with whom teens can drive.

As in existing law, House Bill 213 would allow teens to get a learner's permit at the age of 14. Also like existing law, they would become eligible for the next step of licensing at age 16 after at least six months of driving with a learner's permit.

But under the bill, that next step would be a provisional license, not an unrestricted license. It would require teens to prove through a parent or legal guardian that they've spent 50 hours behind the wheel - 10 of which must be at night - and have a clean driving record.

Teens holding a provisional license would be prohibited from driving with passengers under the age of 25. They also would have to have a parent or other person 25 years of age or older to accompany them while driving between midnight and 5 a.m.

Provisional license holders could, however, get a waiver from the nighttime driving regulation for employment purposes.

After holding the provisional license for a year, teens would become eligible for an unrestricted license if they have not received a traffic citation or conviction. If they had a citation, they would need to drive another six months with a clean record to earn the unrestricted license.

"The main focus of the graduated driver's license program is to educate the young drivers so that by the time they get their final driver's license they know how to drive responsibly," said Cindy Cashen, director of the Juneau chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Weyhrauch introduced the bill at the request of MADD. Cashen said it is the organization's top priority this session.

Linda Sylvester, a staff member for Weyh-rauch, presented the bill Tuesday to the House Transportation Committee. No vote was taken.

"Statistics show that this is a real critical problem - other kids are in the car, the kids are distracted and that's where the accidents happen," she said.

Sylvester cited statistics from the Alaska Department of Transportation showing a spike in the number of accidents involving drivers between the ages of 16 and 20.

Drivers in that age group were involved in more accidents in 2000 that any other group, with 3,889 accidents reported by DOT. Comparatively, those in the 21 to 25 age group were involved in 2,789 accidents in 2000.

Cashen said 32 states have adopted some form of a graduated driver's license law and have reduced the number of teen accidents.

A statement release by Weyhrauch noted that after graduated driver's license laws were enacted Michigan and North Carolina, teens were at least 23 percent less likely to be involved in an accident.

Nighttime crashes involving 16-year-olds in North Carolina dropped 43 percent and fatal crashes went down by 57 percent.

"We need to remember that driving is a privilege, not a right," Cashen said.

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