For months, stern-faced legislators and driver-safety advocates -- all of them adults, many of them graying -- have beat a steady drum of alarm about teenage drivers in Maryland. Laws restricting teen drivers must be strengthened, they have said, because too many young people are dying.
Young people themselves, however, haven't had much of a platform from which to speak.
From left, Weston Bruner, 18, and Brent Follin, 18, both House pages, and Patrick O'Brien, 17, president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils, spoke out against bills that aim to further restrict teen drivers.
(Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
Accident Victims: The number of young people killed in traffic accidents has surged in the Washington region.
That changed yesterday in Annapolis. During a four-hour hearing before a House of Delegates committee, more than a dozen teenagers weighed in on a package of bills that would significantly increase restrictions on teenage drivers.
"It's assumed that all teenagers oppose all traffic safety legislation, but that's not true," said Adam Yalowitz, 16, a sophomore at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring. "It might be a small inconvenience not to be able to carry my friends around, but given the high amount of accidents that have happened in the past few months, I think teens have to recognize that safety has to come first."
There were some surprises, though, as a cadre of House pages mounted a challenge to the bills, which have enjoyed a growing chorus of support in the wake of a rash of teenage driving deaths in the Washington region. The pages are high school seniors chosen for academic excellence to serve as junior staffers for members of the state General Assembly.
"We must trust that parents know their kids and know what their kids are capable of better than anyone else," Weston Bruner, 18, a House page and senior at Loch Raven High School in Towson, told the committee. "What we need are not new laws, but to better enforce the ones we already have."
Bruner and fellow page Brent Follin, 18, of Middletown, unlike most witnesses, had prepared no written remarks. In fact, they and the seven other pages at the hearing had hardly heard of the bills before yesterday morning, Follin said. But when they flipped through the day's committee hearings, they saw several bills sponsored by Montgomery Democratic Dels. William A. Bronrott and Adrienne A. Mandel:
House Bill 393, which would prohibit novice teen drivers from carrying non-family teenage passengers during the first six months of the 18-month provisional license.
HB 394, which would prohibit teenage drivers from using cell phones during the 18-month provisional license.
HB 395, requiring additional hours of supervised instruction for novice drivers.
They also saw two bills proposed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R):
HB 242, extending the state's learner's permit period from four months to six.
HB 244, which would require drivers to restart the 18-month provisional period if cited with certain traffic violations while on provisional licenses.
The bills yesterday received the first of what will probably be several hearings in the House Environmental Matters Committee. If the bills pass in the committee, they would go to the full House of Delegates.
After reading the bills, the pages "got really upset," Follin said in an interview.
"They're just adding more and more restrictions without enforcing [the laws] they already have," Bruner said.
Along with Patrick O'Brien, 17, a senior at St. Mary's Ryken High School in Leonardtown and president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils, the pages mounted what some legislators later described an articulate attack on the bills. The students said the passenger-restriction legislation would disproportionately affect rural and poor residents -- who opponents of the bill say have a greater need for carpooling -- and would add limits on drivers without significantly cutting down on teenage deaths.
O'Brien complained of "age profiling" and suggested that teens could be pulled over simply for "DWY -- driving while young."
Their opposition, which came at the end of a nearly four-hour hearing, followed much support. Officials from state agencies testified in favor of the bills, as did the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Bereaved parents also testified that their children might be alive if the legislation were already in place.