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Under the Wire

O.C. Teens Trying to Beat New Restrictions on Driving Mob DMV Offices

July 01, 1998|VALERIE BURGHER and MEGAN GARVEY and HECTOR BECERRA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In the horde of anxious teens at the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Costa Mesa, 17-year-old James McGinnis stood out. Instead of moping or cursing, he was rejoicing.

"Finally!" the Estancia High School student exclaimed Tuesday afternoon. On this, his third attempt to get a learner's permit, McGinnis had passed--and escaped the new graduated teen-license regulations that take effect today. He also had appeased his mother, who had declared after his second failure that she wouldn't drive him to the DMV anymore.

"My mom got tired of taking me, so I had to ride my bike here," McGinnis said. "I really procrastinated--the last day, the last hour, almost the last minute."

The new law, passed by the Legislature last year, restricts the hours when California teenagers can drive and strictly limits whom they can transport. Those licensed today and hereafter are not allowed for the first six months to carry passengers younger than 20 and, for the first year, are not to be on the road from midnight to 5 a.m.

The Teen Driver Safety Act of 1997 also nearly doubles the hours of supervised driving that teens need before getting a provisional license.

Though the change has been a long time coming, DMV offices were mobbed Monday and Tuesday with teens trying to beat the clock.

At the Costa Mesa DMV office on West 19th Street, workers had to contend with 50% more applicants than usual, administrative manager Leland Lawrence said.

"Today we've been bombarded," Lawrence said Tuesday. "We get an influx this time of year anyway because kids get out of school, but this is still way above average."

The scene was similar in DMV locations across Southern California.

"Man, if I had forgotten about this new law, I would have woke up tomorrow and said, 'I'm a loser,' " said Emie Latcha, 16, at the Hollywood office Tuesday. "I'm trying to get away from that law. It's unfair."

Henry Davis, 16, took the test to get his name in the system. Under the law, teenagers were required to take the provisional exam by the deadline, but did not need to pass it. This was a good thing for Davis, who got 17 out of 46 questions wrong, well beyond the limit of five incorrect answers.

The Sylmar teenager said he wasn't sweating the results.

"I've got two more chances," he said.

Many parents said they had mixed emotions about taking their children into DMV offices before the deadline.

Kapp Johnson of Granada Hills said it was entirely his daughter's desire to slip under the wire. Carmelle, 15, might be avoiding the new state law, the Lutheran minister said, but would still have to live under house rules.

"She'll still basically have a graduated license," said Johnson. "Because most of what they require are our rules at our home anyway."

For others, though, the push to get the license under the old rules was troubling. Irene Madrid, the manager of the Canoga Park DMV office, has an 18-year-old niece who was critically injured in a car accident last year when she steered her car into an oncoming vehicle.

Anticipating the last furious rush before the doors closed at 5 p.m., Madrid said she couldn't help thinking about her niece.

"She made a mistake, the kind you make when you don't have much experience on the road," said Madrid. "If I was these parents, I don't think I'd be here today. I think I'd wait for the new law."

Other would-be drivers said their parents encouraged them to try to beat the clock.

"My mom just told me about it," said 16-year-old Justin Oddy, who was waiting to take the test in Costa Mesa. "She said, 'You better get down there quick.' I hope I'm ready."

For others, like McGinnis, the line at the DMV was a familiar one.

April Wade of Huntington Beach, in line for a second shot at passing the test, said many of her peers and their parents are frustrated by the new rules.

"My mom's mad about the regulations. She thinks that they're ridiculous," said Wade, 16. "They're illogical and they just make it hard. I don't even care about driving at this point. Right now I'm not interested in work. But I'm going to need to drive when I get a job. My mom can't be my chauffeur forever. She hates it."

Carol Clarke, waiting for son Jeff, 16, at the Costa Mesa DMV, said, "There are children who are responsible enough to be behind the wheel and then there are those that are not."

The new law, she said, "should help prevent those who are not from getting on the road. My son is responsible and he'll be fine. I'm hoping this makes things safer and makes sure that kids have enough skills before getting out there."

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