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Laws to change for teen drivers in Pa.

December 12, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • Greencastle Police Chief John Phillippy watches Greencastle-Antrim H.S. students leave school Monday afternoon looking for drivers who may not have buckled. The seat belt checkpoint is part of the click it or ticket program in PA.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

GREENCASTLE, Pa. — Limits on passengers, increased on-the-road training and traffic stops for seat belt violations will start affecting Pennsylvania's teenage drivers in just weeks.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation partnered with police agencies Monday to raise awareness about changes to teen driving laws. PennDOT scheduled police to visit 20 high schools in Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin and Perry counties.

Among them were Greencastle-Antrim High School and Chambersburg Area Senior High School.

The new rules from Act 81 of 2011 go into effect Dec. 24.

They will require learner's permit holders younger than 18 to spend 65 hours in behind-the-wheel training, compared to the previous 50 hours; limit the number of passengers in a vehicle driven by someone younger than 18; and strengthen seat belt laws for drivers younger than 18.

"Without question, I think everybody acknowledges seat belts save lives, and I think it's important to get the word out to our young people to hopefully prevent even one tragedy," Greencastle Police Chief John Phillippy said.

State Rep. Kathy Watson, R-Bucks, sponsored changes to teen driving laws. In a news release, she cites PennDOT statistics indicating fatalities in crashes that involved a 16- or 17-year-old driver increased from 40 in 2009 to 57 in 2010.

"In addition, more than half of teen driver and passenger deaths are the direct result of the failure to buckle up," the news release states.

Greencastle-Antrim High School seniors Denton Cordell, Tache Smothers and Ian Spencer said they were not aware of law changes passed by the legislature. The three teenagers, all of whom have junior driver's licenses, said they agree with the provisions of Act 81.

"I think it's important to wear a seat belt. ... Seat belts do save lives most of the time," said Cordell, 18.

Cordell mentioned last week's crash that killed five teenagers in Adams County, Pa. Although police do not know why the teen driver swerved into oncoming traffic, Cordell said tragedies like those are reminders to practice safe driving habits.

Smothers, 17, said she doesn't have a problem with state law limiting passengers for teenage drivers.

"If you have a lot of people in your car, it's a distraction," she said.

Starting March 8, 2012, Pennsylvania law will prohibit all drivers from using devices to send, read or write text messages.

Cordell, Smothers and Spencer said they worry about drivers who are text messaging, especially when they're on highways. Spencer, 17, said he sees classmates looking down at their phones or using them above the steering wheel when he drives on Leitersburg Pike.

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The following changes affecting teenage drivers in Pennsylvania take effect Dec. 24:

  • Learner's permit holders younger than 18 will be required to undergo 65 hours of behind-the-wheel training, compared to the 50 hours previously required.
Ten of the added hours will consist of nighttime driving, while the other five additional hours must be driven in poor weather conditions.
  • Act 81 places increased restrictions on the number and age of passengers that a junior license holder may transport.
For the first six months after receiving a junior driver's license, a driver is not permitted to have more than one passenger younger than 18 (who is not an immediate family member) unless the driver is accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

After six months, if the driver has a clean driving record, that driver may have up to three passengers younger than 18 who are not immediate family members.
  • Drivers and occupants in a vehicle who are younger than 18 must wear a seat belt, and children younger than 8 must be securely fastened in a child restraint system. Failure to comply with the new law's seat belt provisions is a primary offense, meaning that a driver can be pulled over and cited solely for that violation.
Source: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
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