Law boosts learning time for drivers Tougher measure meant to put brakes on deaths, injuries on the highways

May 13, 1998|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Rebecca Whitney, a 16-year-old junior at Loch Raven High School, puts on her glasses, buckles herself into a green Dodge Neon with "STUDENT DRIVER" printed on the back and begins a slow, jerky drive on Dulaney Valley Road.

"Brake, brake, brake, brake, brake!" her driving instructor, Robert Constante, begins chanting as he reaches over from the passenger seat to steer. Later in the lesson, he tells her to hurry because she's holding up traffic, and he braces when she stops for a red light still about 30 feet ahead. A carload of scowling teen-agers passes her.

Rebecca had better learn her lessons well, because Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday signed the Graduated Licensing Bill, which makes teens wait longer to earn a full license and imposes strict curfews and tougher penalties for traffic offenses.

"We are always looking for ways to cut down on injuries and deaths on the highways, and by taking a look at younger drivers, who seem to needlessly be losing [their] lives and involved in serious accidents, we hope to decrease the rate of those being injured on the highways," said Jim Lange, a spokesman for the Motor Vehicle Administration.

The law extends the minimum time new drivers must drive under a learner's permit from two weeks to four months and stretches from 12 months to 18 months the time they are allowed only provisional licenses, which prohibit driving alone between midnight and 5 a.m.

It also calls for possible suspensions and revocations for students with provisional licenses who collect traffic violations. It requires all first-time license-seekers -- not just teens -- to take a driving course, and it requires whoever gives them lessons to track the students' progress in a log.

In enacting the licensing law, Maryland follows California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and North Carolina, all of which have implemented similar or stricter measures in recent years.

The accident rate for 16-year-olds is 10 times higher than that for 35-year-olds and nearly three times higher than that for 18-year-olds, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Risky behavior and inexperience contribute to those statistics.

Teen-age drivers were involved in crashes that resulted in the deaths of 6,300 teens nationwide in 1996, according to the MVA.

"We have heard testimony in legislative committees from paramedics and police who would be crying out that they were just tired of picking up young bodies from our highways," said the bill's sponsor, Del. Adrienne A. Mandel, a Montgomery County Democrat.

The changes will go into effect July 1 next year. By that time, MVA officials will have prepared new lessons for students.

They also will change databases to extend expiration dates on provisional licenses and learner's permits and will create a "Supervisory Practice Log," in which driving instructors will note students' proficiency.

"This should make teens feel threatened if they choose to drive badly," said Owen Crabb, a senior staff specialist at the Maryland Department of Education's Division of Instruction.

Law's provisions

All new drivers (not just those under age 18, as the former law stated) must take a written driver education course from a uniform curriculum, have 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours behind-the-wheel instruction.

Teens at least 15 years and 9 months old can get their driver's permit and must keep it for four months -- instead of the previous mandatory term of two weeks.

New drivers will hold a provisional license (usable after 5 a.m. and before midnight) for 18 months -- instead of the year it is in effect now.

Whoever is teaching the new driver will have to note on a standardized form what the new driver has learned.

Pub Date: 5/13/98

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