New Jersey asks more of teen drivers

Increased practice, longer waits required before getting licenses

January 07, 2001|By Kristen A. Graham | Kristen A. Graham,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PHILADELPHIA - A law designed to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities among inexperienced drivers in New Jersey took effect recently. The new law requires teens to wait longer and practice more before earning unrestricted licenses.

Known as graduated licensing, it eases teen-agers into unrestricted driving over a two-year period and ensures they get road experience before becoming fully licensed.

Many states, including Pennsylvania, already use some form of the system.

Under the new regulations, teen-agers must wait until age 18 before they can get a full driver's license.

Previously, a young driver could go straight from a learner's permit at 16 to an unconditional license at 17.

Teens' views

Many teens, however, say the new law makes them wait too long to reap the full benefits of a cherished rite of passage.

Shopping for post-holiday bargains at Boscov's in the Moorestown Mall, two teens who will be affected by the regulations said that, while safety concerns were understandable, the restrictions were unnecessarily harsh.

"It's a privilege for teen-agers to be able to drive like adults," Sherri Castiglione, a student at Cinnaminson High, said. "It's not just kids who get in accidents - it's adults, too."

Castiglione, 15, and her friend Becca Poli, who attends Cinnaminson Middle School, still plan on getting their permits soon after they turn 16.

Poli said that she and her mother had talked about it and that they did not exactly see eye-to-eye on the new law.

"My mom thinks it's a good idea. She thinks it'll give me more responsibility," Poli, 14, said.

The point, said state Sen. Robert W. Singer, co-sponsor of the bill, is not to suspend teen privileges or to keep young drivers off the highway, but to groom better drivers.

Still 16 to start

Teens may still apply for learner's permits at 16, but they must pass a behind-the-wheel training program, vision and written tests, and a road test. They may drive only between 5 a.m. and midnight and when accompanied by a New Jersey licensed driver 21 or older and licensed for at least three years.

Permit drivers can carry only one passenger who does not live at the same address they do.

The next step, which teen-agers may take at age 17 and after having a permit for at least six months, is a provisional license.

Passenger restrictions still apply for provisional drivers, but they may drive between midnight and 5 a.m. should an emergency, job or religious activities necessitate their being on the road.

In addition, new drivers 21 and older must be accompanied for three months by a driver at least 21 years old and with at least three years of driving experience.

Benefits of approach

Benefits of the new approach, advocates of the law say, include lengthening the learning process, reducing risk, and improving driving proficiency among teens and new drivers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) reports that organizations such as AAA, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all support the measure.

According to the NHTSA, motor-vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for American teen-agers, and while teens make up 7 percent of motorists, they account for 20 percent of crashes.

Signed into law in September 1998, the changes were delayed for more than two years to update state computer equipment. But weeks before the law took effect, it was discovered that a loophole existed: The bills failed to state that prospective drivers must pass a written exam before receiving learner's permits.

Officials have said that lawmakers could vote on legislation to fix that problem soon.

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