State police will tell parents of teen drivers' infractions

Children's advocates say policy won't violate rights

November 07, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

For teen-age drivers, getting a traffic ticket has just gotten worse. On top of the fines all motorists have to pay, teens will have a Maryland state trooper calling their parents about their driving mishaps.

Under a policy announced yesterday, troopers will contact parents whenever a 16- or 17-year-old driver is pulled over for a motor vehicle infraction - whether it's for speeding, not wearing a seat belt or being at fault in an accident.

At the traffic stop, troopers will ask teens for their parents' names and contact information, which will be forwarded to duty officers who will try to call parents and inform them of the violation. If parents or guardians can't be reached within 24 hours, the barracks commander will send a letter, police said.

"This came out of a concern for juvenile drivers," said Maj. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman. "We know traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among 16- to 20-year-olds. It's a way to involve the parents in our efforts to keep our highways safe and their kids safe."

The policy will not affect local police procedures.

Although parental notification has become a thorny legal issue when it comes to medical treatment, civil and children's rights experts say they don't believe that the state police initiative will violate teen-agers' rights.

"It's a difference in the interests at stake - a minor's right to terminate a pregnancy, for example, versus a minor's right to drive recklessly," said Deborah A. Jeon, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

Legal advocates for children agree, especially because troopers wouldn't be detaining juvenile drivers while parental notification is made.

"No one has a right to privacy with regard to police stops," said Justine Rakich-Kelly, director of the Children's Law Center of Connecticut. "That's public record. Anyone can find out whether someone has been arrested."

Child advocates object to doctors and hospitals notifying parents of medical records, she said, "because we don't want the children to be dissuaded from seeking treatment."

State police say some parents don't find out about their teen-ager's driving violations until the family's automobile insurance rates increase.

As part of the notification policy, police said, barracks commanders will track all motor vehicle collisions involving juveniles to help identify spots where troopers could increase enforcement.

In 2001 and last year, 90 children younger than age 18 died on Maryland roads, police said.

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