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Law Gets Tougher on New Teenage Drivers

Motorists younger than 18 must be off the road by 11 p.m. and wait a year before they can carry passengers with no adult in the vehicle.

January 01, 2006|Jia-Rui Chong | Times Staff Writer

Teenage drivers face more restrictions behind the wheel today when a state law takes effect that further limits the time they can drive at night and makes them wait longer before they can chauffeur their friends.

The new law strengthens existing ones aimed at new drivers younger than 18, increasing from six months to one year the amount of time teens have to wait before they can carry passengers without an adult present. Also, it makes it illegal for a first-year driver to operate a vehicle between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., adding an hour to the previous restriction.

The rules don't apply to new drivers 18 and older.

Some teens said they're bummed by the new restrictions, but highway experts believe the tougher provisions will make the road safer.

"I think if someone gets a license, they should have people's trust," said Kelly Thornton, 16, of Pasadena, who was sipping a hot chocolate at Starbucks with her friend Amanda Ryland. "You already have to know a lot of things to pass the test."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday January 05, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Teen drivers -- A headline in Sunday's California section on an article about new rules for teenage drivers said motorists younger than 18 must be off the road by 11 p.m. This restriction applies to those under age 18 only during their first year of driving.

Thornton said moving the nighttime driving restriction to 11 p.m. also annoyed her and her friends. They didn't mind the previous restriction because most of their parents imposed a midnight curfew. But the new law cuts into their hang-out time.

Plus, Thornton added, "if you see a late movie, most shows start at 10, and we won't be able to go to those at all."

Nationwide, teenage drivers have the highest accident rate per mile traveled.

The problem is worst among 16-year-olds, who have the most limited driving experience, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which found that 78% of the fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers were the result of driver error.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles said drivers younger than 18 are twice as likely as adults are to be involved in a fatal accident and three times as likely to be injured in a collision.

So far, the California Highway Patrol has counted 17,356 accidents in 2005 involving drivers who were 16 or 17. The teen drivers were found to be at fault in 66% of the accidents and 70% of the fatalities.

"I can tell you the Highway Patrol is behind this, because it will reduce deaths and collisions on the freeway," said Joe Zizi, a CHP public affairs officer.

Officers won't pull over cars specifically because they suspect a teen is driving during restricted times or with underage passengers, Zizi said. But if a driver is cited for speeding, not wearing a seat belt or another violation, the courts will tack on a more serious penalty if the driver is also found to have broken the teen driving law. The teen driver's license could be suspended until age 21, Zizi said.

"There are so many distractions out there, whether it be television, the radio, coffee, food or cellphones," he said. "Factor in another three teenagers in the car, put in conversation, laughter and jokes, it's a recipe for disaster."

Because driving at night is more treacherous, Zizi said he is glad that these inexperienced drivers will be spending less time on the road during late hours.

"It is one hour," he said, "but it's one hour times the hundreds of thousands of registered 16- and 17-year-old drivers."

The Automobile Club of Southern California and the California State Automobile Assn., in Northern California, also supported the new law, citing their own study of the success of the 1997 law that originally placed restrictions on teen drivers in their first year of driving.

The study found that deaths and injuries to 16-year-old drivers dropped by 40% in the first two years the law was in effect. The study also estimated that, in the first three years after the graduated driver's license law took effect, 700 deaths and injuries were prevented because 16-year-olds carried 25% fewer teenage passengers.

The Auto Club advocated adding an hour to the teen driving restrictions because the number of crashes involving 16-year olds was 13% higher at night than during the day, added spokeswoman Elaine Beno.

"The goal is very simple," said Sam Cannon, chief of staff for the sponsor of the bill, Assemblyman Bill Maze (R-Visalia). "If we reduce by one the number of fatal crashes and decrease the injury accidents, we will be successful."

But even these minor changes irked teenagers at Paseo Colorado shopping complex, a popular youth hangout in Pasadena.

Spencer Corr, 16, and his cousin, Evan Robinson, 13, shook their heads when they talked about the new law. The two teenagers were waiting for their parents to pick them up outside the Starbucks.

"Now it'll be more difficult to go to the beach or if I want to go to my friends' houses. It's another restriction," said Corr, who lives near Pismo Beach but was visiting family in Pasadena. "No one likes to be told what to do."

Robinson said, "Gas is ridiculously expensive, and if you can have one more person in the car, that'll help," he said. "Also, in L.A., parking is hard."

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