Bill targets habits of teen drivers

Plan would limit number of teen passengers

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Colorado lawmakers may be getting weary of statistics showing high rates of death among new teenage drivers.

A bill recently passed by the Senate could limit the number of teen passengers who could ride with new teenage drivers for as long as a year after they receive their licenses. Family members would be excluded from the restrictions.

Roberta Hume, a Craig parent of a 15-year-old driver, said she thinks the bill makes sense.

If passed by the Legislature, Senate Bill 36 states that no other teens may ride in vehicles with new teenage drivers for as many as six months after drivers receive their licenses. In the following six-month period, new drivers can have one teen passenger.

"I think it would make (new drivers) more aware," Hume said of the bill.

Hume said her son, John, recently received a learner's permit after taking driving education courses at Moffat County High School. The experience helped him become a better driver, but limiting the number of teens in vehicles also could help drivers stay more focused on driving, she said.

New teenage drivers are less likely to wear seatbelts and more likely to drive recklessly when they have teen passengers, according to a study by the Colorado Department of Transportation. Teens who have been driving less than a year are three times as likely to crash with one teen passenger and five times as likely to crash with two passengers, the report states.

Sgt. Gary Meirose of the Colorado State Patrol said the bill's six-month waiting period to have another teen passenger might be good time for teens to "develop their sea legs" or become accustomed to driving.

Meirose cited "distractions" as the leading cause of crashes in Northwest Colorado, second only to animal versus car crashes.

"You get two to three to four kids in the car, and all of a sudden the driver's not paying attention," he said. "I think the feeling behind it is that less distractions will make better driving."

Meirose also said enforcement of the bill, if passed, would be at the discretion of troopers. Moffat County's rural setting often has teenagers from outside city limits commuting to school.

But Carole Walker of Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association says the bill should add teeth to a 1999 law designed to give teenagers more experience behind the wheel and limit high-risk driving scenarios.

Part of Colorado's Graduated Licensing Law requires that teens log 50 hours of supervised driving time, 10 hours of that night driving time. Other provisions include drivers younger than 17 may carry only as many passengers are there are seatbelts, with only one passenger in the front seat. Drivers younger than 17 also cannot drive between midnight and 5 a.m. unless they are accompanied by an adult or are using a vehicle to travel to and from work.

Walker said that some people argue that components of the proposed bill limit a teens' freedom. However, the proposed bill may be necessary if only to help teens live through the first couple of dangerous years behind the wheel.

Ninety-six teenagers died in car crashes in Colorado last year. One of those teenagers died in a car crash in Moffat County. The highest increase in deaths from the previous year was teens between 16 and 17. Last year, 44 of teens in that age group died, compared with 37 in 2003.

"We want to make sure they survive their rite of passage," Walker said. "What I'm hearing from the Legislature is the time has come that we've had too many kids die."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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