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It's the Law / JOHN O'DELL

New Rules for Teen Drivers Start Next Week

June 25, 1998|JOHN O'DELL

Teenage Blues: California's restrictive new driver's law takes effect Wednesday, putting newly licensed 16- and 17-year-olds into a special category with limited driving privileges for the first year they are behind the wheel.

The measure, approved last year, is aimed at curbing new-driver accidents by boosting training requirements and eliminating distractions. Its key points:

* People under 18 must hold a valid learner's permit for six months before they can get their driver's license. Under the old law, 16- and 17-year-old drivers needed to have a learner's permit for only 30 days.

* Licenses won't be issued to drivers under 18 until they have completed 50 hours of behind-the-wheel training supervised by a parent or other adult. The training must include at least 10 hours of night driving.

* For the first six months they are licensed, or until they turn 18, new drivers cannot have passengers under 21 in the car with them unless they are also accompanied by a licensed adult 21 or older.

* New drivers are prohibited from driving between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. for the first year of holding their license--or until they turn 18--unless accompanied by a licensed driver 25 or older.

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Junk Car News: There's a battle brewing in Sacramento about whether to continue the state's controversial old-car scrappage program. A South Coast Air Quality Management District inspector, Bruce Lohmann, recently blew the whistle on the 5-year-old program, which pays people up to $800 to junk their older cars. The theory is that old cars are heavy polluters and that people who swap their clunkers for cash would spend the money on newer and cleaner-running vehicles.

But air quality regulators acknowledge that nobody actually measures the emissions output of the cars being scrapped or checks to see if the cars people get as replacements really are less polluting. The numbers are all based on computer-generated estimates.

Worse, the program assumes that every car brought in to be scrapped would otherwise spend three more years on the street. The emissions savings are computed by subtracting the estimated cleaner emissions of the replacement vehicle from the three years of estimated emissions by the car to be scrapped. The difference--both sets of numbers are made up--is the savings. Scrap yards participating in the program bundle up the savings and sell them as emissions credits to businesses, which then use them to offset their own air pollution.

Unfortunately, few people were really bringing in cars that had three more years left in them. Instead, people were towing terminally ill cars to the scrap yards and jump-starting them so the vehicles could roll through the gate under their own power to meet the requirement that they be drivable. In some cases, Lohmann showed, scrap yards were selling car owners the parts needed to make the vehicles operable for the few minutes it took to get them to the scrapheap.

Gov. Pete Wilson's new budget proposal includes an appropriation of as much as $40 million to continue financing scrap programs.

But the uproar stemming from Lohmann's revelations has caused the state Assembly Budget Subcommittee and the Senate's Budget Review Committee to vote to end funding for the program until some of the questions raised by Lohmann and others are answered.

The issue is pending in the budget conference committee.

Leading the charge against continuing the program is the Specialty Equipment Market Assn., the Diamond Bar-based trade group for the nation's automotive aftermarket industry. Sen. Maurice K. Johannessen (R-Redding) is the association's lead ally in the fight to eliminate scrap funding.

The group worries that the program encourages destruction of older cars, including some that are potentially valuable historic or collectible vehicles, without any guarantee that they will be replaced by cleaner cars. The organization also bemoans the loss of valuable parts for old cars when clunkers are junked under the smog program--which prohibits recycling any parts from the cars.

Instead of scrappage, the group would like to see the state use the $40 million to finance a repair and upgrade program, says Chris Kersting, the organization's vice president for governmental affairs. It is proposing a program that would cover up to $800 of the cost of repairing older vehicles so they can meet state smog criteria and remain in operation.

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