Teenagers will face tougher requirements for driver's licenses

PORTLAND — If teenagers think it’s tough to get a driver’s license now, just wait.

Maine’s secretary of state is developing new rules that would make it harder and more time-consuming for young drivers to get their licenses. Some of the rules could be in place by the end of March.

Drivers between 16 and 24 make up about 11 percent of Maine’s licensed drivers but are involved in 29 percent of the state’s motor vehicle deaths and 38 percent of injuries, said Secretary of State Charlie Summer. Since Christmas, eight crashes involving young drivers have killed 12 people. The goal, Summers said, is to make roads safer by better preparing young drivers.

Proposals under consideration include increasing the number of hours teens must spend behind the wheel to get an intermediate license or setting an earlier curfew for when they must be off the road. Another would double, from six to 12 months, the time they must hold an intermediate license before they can get an unrestricted license.

“We’re licensing a young person who doesn’t necessarily have a lot of experience to drive a 4- or 5,000-pound piece of steel at, if you’re going north of Bangor, 75 mph,” Summer said. “The far-reaching effects of some bad decisions by these young people can hurt not only them and their families, but whole communities.”

Different opinions

Teenagers will probably agree with some of the proposals and be resistant to others, said 15-year-old Sarah Beth Campisi, a sophomore at Thornton Academy in Saco who has a driver’s permit. Age also creates a division in their opinions, she said.

“My older friends or friends my age don’t mind as much because it’s not affecting us since a majority of us already have permits,” Campisi said. “But my younger friends panicked because they didn’t want to deal with that much more work. They want it to be easy and a piece of cake. They don’t understand it’s serious and that driving isn’t a right, it’s a privilege.”

Different levels

To get a driver’s license in Maine, students have to go through several steps.

First comes a permit, which teens can get if they’re 15, have taken 30 hours of driver’s education and passed a written test.

Next is an intermediate license. To get one, permitted drivers must complete 35 hours of practice driving with a supervising driver who’s at least 20 and had a license for at least two years. Five of the hours must be at night. Then, after six months, they must pass a road test. They also have to be at least 16.

Teens with intermediate licenses have some freedoms. They can drive alone, with family members or with licensed drivers over 20, but not with fellow teenagers. And they can’t drive between midnight and 5 a.m. or use a cellphone while driving.

Finally comes an unrestricted license. Teens who’ve had an intermediate license for 180 days can get one. During the first two years with that license, a driving violation means they automatically lose their driving privileges for 30 days.

Different perspectives

To get ideas for which licensing rules need reworking, Summers held six public meetings this month across Maine.

A panel made up of law enforcement, driver’s education instructors, an insurance industry representative, state officials and a student will meet Feb. 8 and two or three times after that to draft recommendations. Summers said he will probably implement some of the proposals, possibly by the end of March. He’ll pass on other ideas to the Legislature’s transportation committee.

The main goal is to have teenagers get more experience behind the wheel while under the watchful eye of an adult before they take to the street on their own, said Marvin Campbell, operations manager with Mullen’s Driving School and a member of the panel that’s exploring the issue.

“A lot of driving is about experience,” he said. “This is like on-the-job training.”

Campisi, who serves as a student representative on the panel, said she likes the idea of spending more time driving in all weather conditions before she moves on to an unrestricted license. But teenagers are likely to balk at a 10 p.m. driving curfew, she said.

Campisi’s older brother and sister both worked at an Old Orchard Beach soda shop when they had permits in years past, but often didn’t arrive home at night until 10:30 or sometimes later, she said. The curfew change could be burdensome for teenagers, their parents and businesses that rely on teens for jobs.

“That’s going to have unintended consequences against businesses and hurt the economy,” she said. “There has to be a balance.”

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Comments

Jim Cyr's picture

Mr. Summer,

In order to " make the roads safer by better preparing our young drivers", then make Drivers Education a mandatory full semester high school class in order to graduate or sign a waiver that one must, on their own, PAY for a Drivers Ed course to qualify for the needed permit to achieve a license! This will allow the folks to all learn the same course and also include Defensive skills.

 's picture

YES!

I fully support changes like this.

Now, let's create some new and ongoing assessments for the mature drivers to make sure that they can still safely be on the road. As we age we are not the same drivers that we used to be.

ERNEST LABBE's picture

Part of driver

Part of driver training should be on a skid pad. We live in an area where for at least five months a year the roads can be very slippery. It's easy to say don't hit the brakes, steer into the skid. However when it's your first time this is eaisly forgotten. Practice makes perfect.

 's picture

licenses

I think there should be a curfew on young drivers. As far as teens working a job where they need to drive maybe the business ought to change the hours.
teens 16-17 can drive until 9pm then an adult or other driver with say at least 1 yr driving experience drive the night hours, still no cell phone use allowed while at work unless pulled over. but on another note, there are still teens that have the experience but one they are on their own seem to make thier own rules and forget what they were taught. I have been driving since 1984, Have had one major accident and a few fender benders where no one was seriously hurt. It,s not just the young driver it's the other driver as well. The young driver without the road experience may panic and slam the brakes on causing other events. I think if a teen really wants to be independent they need to follow the rules and take extra time to gain the experience before hitting the roads alone. I also had a friend who had gotten her license a few weeks before she had an accident and was killed along with 2 of her friends. Speed, weather, other drivers and many other factors play roles in serious accidents. I think it would be a good thing.

Tim McClure's picture

16 to 24 year old?

It would be really nice to know what the statistics are for 16 - 18 year old drivers and a separate 21 - 24 year old data set, where drinking is legal. 16 to 24 seems like a strange age range to sample. It makes me think they wanted to inflate the accident rate to support their suggestion.

I applaud wanting to reduce accidents, but will these suggestions work? How will they be enforced? After a kid gets in an accident? What about someone who is 17 or 18 and is emancipated or even is already married and has a family?

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