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Measure would restrict new drivers in Md.

March 28, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- Del. Andrew A. Serafini wears a wristband with the names of two teenage boys from Chambersburg, Pa., who died in a car crash in 2007.

The boys, both 15, were in a car with three other members of their high school soccer team when they died in a two-vehicle crash.

Now, Serafini, R-Washington, is supporting legislation that could help prevent similar tragedies.

He is co-sponsoring a bill being considered in the Maryland General Assembly that would lengthen the amount of time new drivers are required to hold learner's permits and provisional licenses before getting their full licenses.

The bill also would ban drivers younger than 18 from transporting minors for the first nine months they hold a license, and restrict them to only one minor passenger for the following nine months or until the driver turns 18.

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Current law bans provisional license holders younger than 18 from driving nonfamily passengers younger than 18 for the first 151 days.

However, Serafini said other teenagers can be a distraction for new drivers, and he hopes the new law could save lives.

After the current passenger restrictions were enacted in Maryland in 2005, the number of passengers injured in teen driving crashes dropped by nearly one quarter, from an average of more than 1,000 per year from 2003 to 2005 to an average of less than 800 per year between 2006 and 2007, according to state data. The number of passengers killed in teen driving crashes also dropped from an average of 13 per year to an average of less than eight per year, according to state data.

Nearly all of the teenagers who participated in a survey conducted by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in 2007 said they had seen passengers distracting teen drivers in some way. Similar studies have found teenagers are more likely to speed or drive aggressively with other teens in the car.

"There is a lot of influence with your friends," said Lakin Thomas, a 15-year-old North Hagerstown High School freshman. "It could be more of a distraction. You could be laughing, joking ... they could be showing you stuff. And things could happen all of a sudden."

Serafini said his support of the bill, which also was cross-filed in the Senate, might get him in trouble with his 14-year-old daughter, Lauren.

But he said it's an important step to take in making teenagers safer when they are first behind the wheel.

Lauren, an eighth-grader at Grace Academy, said the new restrictions would be inconvenient if she and her friends wanted to go somewhere together after sports practice or after school.

"But I guess that will be fine just because I'd at least be able to have that license ... that freedom," Lauren said.

Lauren is older than many of her friends, and said they have decided whoever gets their license first would be able to drive them around.

"Now, I guess if this happens, I won't be able to," she said.

Lakin said it would be hard to turn down her friends if they wanted a ride if the teen driving bill becomes law.

"But it would be safer for everyone probably," she said.

The House passed the teen driving bill, but the Senate version was amended to restrict drivers younger than 18 from driving with more than one youth. Under the Senate version, one youth could ride in a car with a driver younger than 18.

Since the House and Senate are considering different rules for teen drivers, a compromise on the issue likely will be worked out in conference.




Teen driving bills online

o House teen driving bill -- http://mlis.state.md.us/2009rs/billfile/HB0303.htm

o Senate teen driving bill -- http://mlis.state.md.us/2009rs/billfile/sb0265.htm

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