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Rep. Brad Moulton (R-Ogunquit)
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For Immediate Release

Date: 10/11/12

Rep. Moulton Op-Ed: Tough new law for young drivers goes into effect

To The York Weekly

By Rep. Brad Moulton

Starting August 30, when a new law takes effect, young Maine drivers will need to pay closer attention to their behavior behind the wheel. Penalties for moving violations will be much tougher than before.

Legislators were not out to "get" young motorists when we passed LD 1912, but the carnage on our roads finally became unacceptable. Far too many young drivers were dying in accidents that were entirely preventable.

At the time the bill passed, in April, Maine had seen 20 fatal accidents since Christmas that involved young drivers, usually teenagers. As the death toll mounted, Secretary of State Charlie Summers began looking for a solution. He travelled the state, speaking to school groups and others who had lost classmates, friends, sons and daughters. Through these "Conversations with Communities," as they were called, he started building the case for much tougher sanctions against young drivers who repeatedly break the law.

Secretary Summers oversees the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and in a report to the Legislature he presented his findings. Nearly two young drivers are killed each month in Maine, while more than 42 are injured each week. Nationally, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24. In Maine, people in that age group comprise 11.4 percent of all licensed drivers, but they are involved in 29 percent of all road fatalities and 38 percent of all injuries.

A review of the causes showed that speeding, alcohol, texting and failure to wear a seatbelt were responsible for many of the deaths. A Maine transportation safety study in 2002 found that 16-year-old drivers are eight times more likely to be injured in a traffic accident than drivers aged 25 and older.

During an information session before the Legislature's Transportation Committee, high school students voiced their opinions on tougher penalties. They were asked what their friends feared the most with regard to sanctions. The number one fear, they all said, was a license suspension. Fines were not nearly as great a concern, as parents often end up paying them. The possibility of losing their license, and the loss of freedom a license confers, clearly was the most significant deterrent to irresponsible behavior on the road.

The legislation that proposed a crackdown on repeat offenders incorporated what had been learned. On April 13, the House passed the measure by a vote of 82-61. The Senate passed it without opposition.

The following is a summary of the major changes.

When a young driver initially gets a license, the intermediate license restrictions are extended from six months to nine months. A fine of up to $500 will be assessed for a violation of these restrictions. The restrictions include no passengers except immediate family members, no driving between midnight and 5 a.m. and no cell phone use.

During the first two years that a young driver holds a license, if they have any violation, they face a 30-day license suspension for the first offense and a 180-day suspension for a second violation. With a third offense, they lose their license for a year.

During the first two years that a young driver holds a license, if they commit a major offense (such as criminal speeding, operating under the influence or operating after suspension), the following penalties will apply in addition to license suspension:

*required to complete a driver improvement course;

*required to complete up to 60 hours of community service;

*must successfully complete a driving examination (written and road); and

*must pay a $200 reinstatement fee.

This new law also increases the minimum fine for texting and driving from $100 to $250 for all drivers.

For those who do not drive under the influence, speed or text while driving, nothing will change. The point of the new law is to keep dangerous drivers off the road so they don't kill themselves or others. If this new statute saves one teenager's life, it's worth the price. Meanwhile, the roads will be safer for all of us. ###

State Rep. Brad Moulton, an attorney, serves on the Judiciary Committee and the State and Local Government Committee.

Jay Finegan
Maine House Republicans
Tel: (207) 287-1445