Teen-age drivers, the most hazardous on the road, may face new restrictions and stricter curfews.
Legislation before the Maryland General Assembly would require teens to receive more supervised on-the-road experience and wait longer to earn a full license. Teens would also face tougher penalties for traffic offenses.
Supporters hope the proposed law will help save lives and prevent injuries among the most inexperienced -- and statistically the most dangerous -- drivers on the road.
The accident rate for 16-year-olds is 10 times higher than the rate for 35-year-olds and nearly three times higher than that for 18-year-olds, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. A combination of risky behavior and inexperience fuels those statistics, said the institute's Allan F. Williams in a recent report.
Last month a carload of teens ran off a road in Dundalk, leaving one dead and four injured. Police blamed driver error and speed, common factors in crashes involving the youngest drivers.
Young drivers make up 7 percent of the driving population but are involved in 14 percent of the alcohol-related fatal crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
A growing number of states are attacking the problem through "graduated licensing" programs that give teens progressively more driving privileges as they mature and gain experience.
Maryland and California first adopted early forms of graduated licensing about two decades ago. In Maryland, teens receive provisional -- or intermediate -- licenses that require them to observe a midnight curfew.
In the past few years, several states have adopted tougher standards for teen drivers. Some lengthened the time for learners' permits, required more supervised driving and restricted the number of teen passengers. Eighteen states now have some aspects of graduating licensing, the NHTSA said.
"Kids will tell you their driver's license is their ticket to adulthood, their ticket to freedom, their ticket to peer acceptance," said Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA-Potomac, the auto club. "By making [the license] more tenuous, we have a rare opportunity to influence their behavior."
Some of those elements have been included in legislation introduced in Annapolis by Montgomery County Del. Adrienne A. Mandel and Sen. Walter M. Baker of Cecil County, both Democrats. New drivers would have to have a learner's permit for six months, rather than two weeks, before they could take a test for a provisional license.
A provisional license would last 18 months, instead of one year, so young people would be almost 18 before they could get a full license.
A learner's permit allows a person to drive only while accompanied by a licensed driver 21 or older. A provisional license allows the novice to drive alone, but the person is subject to the curfew.
The bills also require a parent or an adult driver older than 20 to keep a record of driving sessions with the holder of learner's and provisional licenses. The Motor Vehicle Administration would require a certain number of practice hours for each phase and would review the log.
Provisional drivers would face tougher penalties for traffic violations, including a required driver improvement course after the first offense and a license suspension after the second. They also would have to wait 18 months after a violation before advancing to a full license. Theoretically, poor provisional drivers could have to wait until they were in their 20s to get their full licenses if they accumulated violations.
Currently, a provisional driver with a spotty record might still get a license at 18.
The legislation also would lengthen the current midnight curfew for drivers younger than 18 by two hours. It would run from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
A potentially expensive provision would require the MVA to adopt a pilot program of testing applicants for a provisional license on the road, rather than on a driving course. To minimize other costs, the MVA could raise the fee for a new license from $30 to $45, Mandel said.
The bills contain a dose of age equality: Most of the new provisions would apply to new drivers of any age. Adults would not be subject to the curfew, although they would be required to take a driver's education class for the first time.
A Canadian study showed that newly licensed drivers, even older adults, have more crashes than experienced drivers of the same age, said Michael F. Smith of the NHTSA's Office of Research and Traffic Records.
Some teens say they should be judged as individuals. "I have some friends who I don't think should be on the road and others who are really good drivers. It depends on who has the most experience on the road," said Kim Greensfelder, 17, a junior at Kenwood High School in Essex. She said the MVA should develop a better way of testing driving skills.
Jessica Strott, 18, a senior at Perry Hall High School, said new drivers need more practice behind the wheel. "The amount of time you spend driving in drivers' ed is really not enough," she said.
The proposed legislation was based upon the work of a study committee composed of representatives of AAA, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Maryland Department of Transportation, students, insurers and driving schools.
Pub Date: 2/15/98