A new law for new drivers
This last week, a new law went into effect that will change the rules considerably for newly-licensed drivers.
I am proud to say that I was the sponsor of this bill, and I hope that it will greatly reduce the number of accidents, and along with that injuries and deaths, that result from accidents involving young drivers.
This week, I’d like to talk about this law and the rationale behind the changes.
This spring, when I introduced the bill, it was obvious that there was a serious problem. Between December 2011 and March 2012, there were 12 separate fatal crashes in Maine, resulting in 16 deaths, where the “at fault” driver was between the ages of 15 and 24. Seeing this stark number prompted me to look into the situation. The statistics were not good. Although drivers between the ages 16 and 24 make up only 13% of Maine drivers, they account for 36% of all auto crashes in the state. Additionally, young drivers are more likely to be involved in crashes related to risk-taking behavior, especially speeding and distracted driving. Something had to be done to improve safety for this group.
Maine was not alone in this, so the efforts of other states to combat this problem were examined. Changes in the law were modeled on those in Massachusetts, which had noticeable success in changing the behavior of young drivers. They found that enhanced penalties for young drivers who violated motor vehicle laws dramatically reduced the number of fatalities in this age group. After they toughened their penalties for young drivers in 2007, they saw a 75% reduction of teen fatalities over the first three years, and a 40% reduction of accidents involving drivers under 18.
Our new law does several things. First, it lengthens the time period for a new driver to operate under the restrictions of an intermediate license from 180 to 270 days. This period used to end at the new driver’s 18th birthday, no matter how long they had been driving. Now it will go for the full period, regardless of the driver’s age. The restrictions for those with an intermediate license are designed to cut down on distracted and drowsy driving, and include a prohibition on driving with non-family members, driving between midnight and 5 a.m. and using a mobile phone while driving.
The new law also increases the penalties for driving violations for those with an intermediate license. Fines and most importantly suspension times are significantly increased. The fear of losing their license, and with it their independence, is an especially effective deterrent for you people.
I will be watching the statistics closely over the next few years to see what sort of difference this law makes. I hope the results that other states have seen with similar laws will be replicated here. Too many of Maine’s young people have died in senseless accidents, and these additional restrictions and penalties are a small price for teens to pay if it saves lives.