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New drivers face tougher laws

June 30, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Beginning today, driving laws for new motorists will be a lot tougher, a policy some local teenagers say they support.

"It will be kind of annoying waiting longer to drive on my own, but it makes sense," said Rachael Hefner, a South Hagerstown High School student.

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Hefner, 16, said she considers herself a responsible driver, but said she knows others her age who aren't.

When she receives her learner's permit she will be subject to rules under the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration's Graduated Licensing System.

Under the new program, which goes into effect today, all drivers who receive permits must complete driver education that includes 30 hours of classroom study and six hours of professional on-road instruction. Formerly, only drivers under 18 had to complete driver training.

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A new feature calls for an additional 40 hours of time behind the wheel with a licensed driver during the permit period, according to Caryn Coyle, director of media relations for the MVA.

The supervising driver must be at least 21 years old and been driving for three years, she said.

Permit holders must document their practice time in a log book and are encouraged to drive a minimum of five hours per week, she said.

The MVA recommends novice drivers experience a variety of situations such as night driving, rush hour, and inclement weather, she said.

The Graduated Licensing System is designed to reduce accidents and save lives by getting a parent or mentor involved in the learning process and requiring conviction-free driving, said Coyle.

Under the new law, the length of time a novice driver must be supervised is increased and exposure to more difficult driving conditions is gradual, she said.

The additional 40 hours of on-road driving will make drivers more skilled, said Lee Gree, 18, of Hagerstown.

"You're better off. You learn a lot more," he said.

Driver training classes are necessary, said Gree.

"There's a lot of information you might miss if you don't come," he said.

Erik Beard, 15, of Hagerstown agreed.

"It's necessary. Kids drive a lot crazier than adults," he said.

A learner's permit now will be valid for one year instead of six months.

New drivers must have a learner's permit for at least four months before they take the driving test. In the past, drivers age 16 had to wait two weeks and those who got a permit at 15 years and 9 months had to wait three months.

A new driver who is convicted of a moving violation during that period must restart the four months.

The old law had no provision for a moving violation by a person holding a learner's permit.

The cost of a permit will increase from $30 to $45.

The minimum age for a driver to receive a provisional license, which prohibits a person under the age of 18 from operating a vehicle alone between midnight and 5 a.m., was raised from 16 years to 16 years and one month.

A driver must hold a provisional license for 18 months without a moving violation instead of the 12 months required previously. The driver must restart the 18-month waiting period in the event of a moving violation conviction.

Motorists must also pass a skills test administered by the MVA.

To receive a driver's license under the new system, a driver must be at least 17 years and 7 months old and not had a moving violation conviction for 18 months, regardless of age.

Previously, a driver needed only to be 17 years old to obtain a driver's license. A provisional license would have converted to a full license if the driver was a traffic conviction for the past 12 months or turned 18 years old.

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