Maryland General Assembly Weighs Many Bills to Improve Teen Driver Safety

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 28, 2009

Teens of Maryland, pay close attention: Concerned that too many of you are dying in car accidents, the General Assembly is back to tinkering with your driving privileges.

But to follow what they are considering, you may need to draw a diagram.

The House of Delegates has passed a bill that would require teens to hold a learner's permit for nine months, instead of the six now mandated by law, before advancing to a restricted provisional license. Then, it would require them to hold the provisional license until age 18, instead of 17 years 9 months.

In addition, the bill would make it illegal for provisional license holders to carry underage passengers for nine months, unless those passengers are siblings or closely related. After that, teens could carry one additional underage passenger until they turn 18. Plus family members.

The Senate is considering a variation of the measure that would also extend the length of time a teen must hold a learner's permit before getting a provisional license. It would not change the rules for driving with other teens, but it would, for the first time, include cousins in the category of family members whom teens are allowed to drive.

Confused? Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) insists if you're younger than 18, you're really not.

"Believe me," he said. "Kids understand this. There is nothing higher on their list of priorities."

Like 45 other states and the District, Maryland uses a three-tier license system for young drivers, introduced in 1999. State lawmakers have been refining the system ever since, looking for ways to keep inexperienced drivers safe on the roads. Studies have shown repeatedly that young drivers are much more likely to die in car accidents and that the risks rise when they face distractions, such as other teen passengers. Under Maryland law, provisional license holders cannot use cellphones on the rood.

This year's bill was introduced by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and originally would have been stronger. It would have barred teens from getting a learner's permit until 16 and would have lowered the state's curfew from midnight to 11 p.m. The House and Senate bills would allow an adult who co-signed for a teen's driver's license to request that it be canceled at any time, for any reason. (Parent alert: State law already allows an adult to request that a license be suspended.)

Frosh said the new rules could help save lives.

"Is it inconvenient?" he asked colleagues in a floor vote on the issue Thursday when questioned about rules barring teens from driving one another. "You bet it's inconvenient. But it's a lot more inconvenient if your kid gets hurt or killed or hurts or kills someone else."

Other lawmakers said the changes only make laws more complicated and difficult to enforce. They say parents should be the ones imposing driving rules for their kids.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company