Making Young Drivers Safer

By Bill Diamond

It is very late in the session for a new piece of legislation to be introduced, so I was skeptical when I was approached by the Secretary of State with a request to submit an after-deadline bill.

After seeing the data, I was convinced that something had to be done this year to address the dangers posed by young drivers, and I agreed to sponsor “An Act to Encourage Responsible Teen Driving.”

That there is a problem right now is obvious. Between December 2011 and March 2012 there were 12 fatal crashes in Maine resulting in 16 deaths. The “at fault” driver in these crashes was between the ages of 15 and 24. Overall, while 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, the crashes they are in tend to be more severe. Young drivers are more likely to be involved in crashes directly related to risk-taking behavior, such as speeding, distracted driving and alcohol use. Finally, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Mainers ages 1 to 24.

The bill does several things to improve safety. First, it seeks to make sure that drivers are more experienced before they get an unrestricted license. When a new driver first gets a license they are issued an “intermediate license,” which carries some restrictions, such as driving with non-family members and driving between midnight and 5 a.m. This bill increases the time period for an intermediate license from six months (180 days) to nine months (270 days). This should cut down on both distracted driving and drowsy driving among inexperienced drivers.

Most importantly, the bill increases the penalties for infractions committed by teens. Fines and suspension times are increased significantly. The increased suspension times are especially critical, because the thought that they will actually lose their license for an extended period has a great deterrent effect on young people, who view a license as the key to their independence.

This is based on the experiences of other states, notably Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, 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 reduction of teen fatalities of 75% over the first three years, culminating in only one single fatality in 2010 involving a driver under the age of 18. According to an April 2010 article in the Boston Globe, there were 13,214 crashes for 2009 involving drivers under 18 compared to 21,310 crashes for the same age group in 2006, prior to the enhanced penalties being adopted.

We have lost too many young people in senseless accidents, and it is my hope that by enacting similar laws we can attain results like those seen elsewhere. Because of the accelerated schedule at this point in the session, this bill will probably be heard before this goes to print.

I would still welcome your thoughts on the issue, though, so please call my office at the State House at 287-1515 or visit my website, to send me an e-mail.

Senator Bill Diamond is a resident of Windham, and serves the District 12 communities of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, Windham and Hollis.

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