New drivers, new rules

Some laws that go into effect today focus on teenagers, beginning drivers

Rachelle Germond is excited to get her license in October, but she is unsure about the new laws restricting teen drivers.

Stricter driving laws for teens are just some of more than 400 new laws that go in to effect today.

Craig Chief of Police Walter Vanatta said that most of the new laws are for administrative purposes but that many others focus on teens, and those are the ones he expects to be noticed most.

"The ones associated with minors will be the biggest thing," he said.

Starting today, a driver younger than 18 cannot carry passengers younger than 21 until the driver has held a valid driver's license for at least six months. After six months, the driver can have one passenger younger than 21. After a year, the driver can take as many passengers as the vehicle legally can carry.

Another new provision means that new license holders won't be able to drive between midnight and 5 a.m. until they've had their driver's licenses for at least one year.

The changes apply to all drivers, including those who received their licenses before today.

Provisions can be bypassed if someone older than 21 with a valid license is in the car, if all passengers younger than 21 are members of the driver's immediate family or if someone in the car needs emergency medical assistance.

Mary Greer, public relations director for AAA Colorado, said teen driving crashes have been a problem for a long time.

"The No. 1 killer of teens between 16 and 17 years of age is not alcohol or drugs, but their involvement in vehicle crashes," she said.

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, 96 teen drivers and passengers, ages 16 to 20, died in traffic crashes last year. Although teens represented only seven percent of licensed drivers in 2004, they accounted for more than 14 percent of traffic deaths in the state.

Although Vanatta thinks the new teen driving rules are a good idea, he said they would be tough to enforce because teens can be ticketed for the new laws only if they are pulled over for another reason.

"(The new laws) are a secondary offense," he said. "If we see a carload of kids, we can't just stop them for that."

Greer said the law was made a secondary offense because lawmakers "didn't want to give the perception that teens are profiled."

A teen driving law originally went into effect in 1999 that made permit drivers log 50 hours of driving, 10 of which had to be at night. The original law also prohibited teen drivers from driving between midnight and 5 a.m. in some counties.

In the first two years of the program, Greer said, the state saw an 18 percent decrease in teen crashes, but by 2002, teen crashes and fatalities had gone back up.

Greer said the a new bill was passed this year, thanks in part to support from parents of teens who died in traffic crashes, as well as many public, private and nonprofit organizations.

Colorado is the 30th state to implement stricter teen driving rules this year, Greer said.

Greer said other states have had these driving rules in effect and have seen lower teen crash numbers.

"Since 1999, California has seen a 23 percent reduction of teen passenger fatalities by teen drivers," she said.

One Craig mother thinks the new laws are a good thing.

Jennifer Germond, Rachelle's mother, said she remembers that when she first got her license, she and her friends would pack as many people as they could into a car.

"It was like a big party on wheels," she said.

She said the new laws will make her feel safer when her daughter begins to drive in four months.

According to the CDOT Web site, teens who are ticketed for breaking the new law will have court appearances, get two points off their licenses, be required to do community service and be fined $50 for each offense.

For example, if a teen was to get pulled over with three of his or her friends, the teen would face three offenses -- adding to six points off his or her license and a possible $150 fine.

Greer said that these penalties are very strict and that because the new law is a secondary offense, teens will be charged with the original offense, along with the driving offense.

"When teens only have six points on their licenses," she said, "an offense could add up, and a teen could lose their license."

Parents or teens who have questions about the new driving laws are encouraged to go to www.Coteendrivers.com, www.AAA.com/teens or call the teen driver hotline at (303) 205-8400.

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