March 26, 2012
Contact: Megan Sanborn
Secretary of State Charles E. Summers, Jr. Young Driver Safety Initiative Findings and Recommendations Presented to the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation March 26, 2012
Last May, I was invited to speak at the Narraguagus High School in Harrington regarding the dangers of impaired driving. During an initial meeting with a group of students, I asked how many of them had their driver’s license. Three or four of them responded they did not because they couldn’t afford driver’s education. Then after addressing the entire student body, more students approached me claiming they too were waiting until they turned 18 before applying for their driver’s license because they could not afford driver’s education which runs between $350 to $500. I was astonished; and it bothered me to think that we have a “two-tier” system in Maine where students who have money take driver’s education and those who can’t afford it, don’t. Even if students in rural Maine want to work in order to pay for driver’s education, they would have to drive 10 to 15 miles to a job location. They find themselves in a “catch-22” where they can’t work without a driver’s license and they can’t get a driver’s license prior to age 18 unless they take driver’s education. These facts deeply troubled me and upon returning to Augusta, I began questioning our driver’s education program and current curriculum in order to come up with a solution to these barriers that are preventing many young people from getting their driver’s license before they turn 18; and in so doing, I learned the curriculum has not been updated since 1996.
To begin the process of examining the driver’s education system, I discovered that Maine’s Motor Vehicle Law, Title 29-A, requires the Secretary of State to convene a Technical Review Panel (TRP) to assist in the development of driver education curricula. I promptly assembled the panel which is made up of representatives from the Department of Education; the Department of Public Safety; law enforcement agencies; the insurance industry; the motor carrier industry; a driver education teacher and instructor; and a Thornton Academy student, Sara Beth Campisi who recently completed a driver’s education course, in order to begin the process of examining ways to update and improve the current driver education curriculum.
Along with convening the Technical Review Panel, I wanted to seek input from parents, students, teachers, relatives, and any concerned community members as to changes that should be considered. Six “Conversations With The Communities” were scheduled across the state and open to the public for comment. Unfortunately, just days before our first community conversation, there was a surge in young driver fatalities, most notably over the Christmas holiday. In fact, between this past Christmas and today there have been 12 fatal crashes, resulting in 16 deaths, where the “at fault” driver was between the ages of 15 and 24. So when I held my first “Conversation With the Community” in January at the Kennebunk Bureau of Motor Vehicle office, I was inundated with concerns over the number of recent fatalities at the hands of young driver’s. This was a theme that continued at each subsequent meetin. There was near unanimity from the public for more severe penalties for young un-experienced drivers who break the law; for mandating more time-behind-the-wheel experience before getting a driver’s license; and modernizing driver’s education in order to address today’s challenges that drivers face. In fact, one parent expressed outrage that his son recently took a driver’s education course from the same school that he took it from when he was a teenager and his son was presented with the same exact program that he himself completed 17 years ago.
Two prevailing themes emerged out of our “Conversations With the Communities” which I feel must be acted upon swiftly. First, the need for enhanced penalties for those young drivers operating on their newly acquired driver’s license; and second, improving not only the quality of our drivers’ education program but modernizing its delivery to ensure available access to the best possible program at an affordable rate from Kittery to Estcort Station.
Research shows, as in the case of Massachusetts, that enhanced penalties for young drivers who violate motor vehicle laws has significantly reduced the number of fatalities in this age group. After Massachusetts enhanced their penalties for young drivers in 2007, they had a reduction of teen fatalities of 75% over the first three years – reporting 1 single fatality in 2010. According to an April 2010 article in the Boston Globe, “reported accidents of all kinds – from minor dings to fatal crashes – among junior operators… have diminished steadily as well.” The article reports 13,214 crashes for 2009 compared to 21,310 crashes in 2006 prior to the enhanced penalties being adopted. I believe that, given the opportunity, enhanced penalties for provisional drivers will have a similar affect here in Maine.
Sixteen deaths, in little more than 13 weeks, where the young driver was determined to be “at fault” is intolerable. Therefore, I respectfully ask the Committee to immediately consider these changes to Maine Motor Vehicle Statutes, Title 29-A. A draft proposal of the specific areas and changes are attached to this report which includes the following:
- Increase the number of hours to be completed while operating with a driver’s permit from 35 hours (including 5 hours of night driving) to 70 hours (including 10 hours of night driving);
- Extend the length of time a person under the age of 21 must hold a permit from 6 months to 1 year to ensure supervised driving time in all four of Maine’s seasons;
- Increase the age of the accompanying driver from 20 to 25 years of age;
- Extend the period of restrictions while on an intermediate driver’s license from 6 months to 9 months;
- Increase the suspension periods for traffic infractions imposed while operating with a juvenile provisional license from 30 to 60 days for a first offense; 60 to 180 days for a second offense; and 90 days to 1 year for third or subsequent offenses;
- Require a driver improvement course be completed by a juvenile whose license is suspended;
- Require an enhanced reinstatement fee for a suspension resulting from a traffic offense while holding a provisional license to $100; and require an enhanced reinstatement fee of $500 when convicted of a major offense (as defined in the habitual offender law) while holding a provisional license;
- Require anyone convicted of a major offense (as defined in the habitual offender law) while operating with a provisional license to complete a driver license examination prior to reinstatement of their driving privileges;
- Increase the minimum fine for texting and driving from $100 to $350;
- Require anyone over the age of 18 and obtaining their driver’s license for the first time after December 31, 2012 to complete 6 hours of an approved driver’s education course.
In addition to vital law changes needed to improve the safety of Maine’s roadways, I am committed to modernizing and enhancing the current driver education program and to make driver’s education more accessible to all students in Maine. I intend to improve the method in which the curriculum is delivered and require more practical experience behind-the-wheel. By moving a large portion of the 30 hours of classroom time to online learning, more students will be able to complete a driver’s education class due to the newfound accessibility and affordability this will offer. As a result, driver education instructors will be able to devote more quality time to direct instruction of the operation of a motor vehicle and ensure more practical experience behind-the-wheel. I intend to improve the content of the current curriculum – for example more discussion surrounding modern technology that is apt to distract a driver, such as a cell phone or GPS navigator. This review of current practices is a critical undertaking which will require continued research in order to develop a working model of what the new driver education program will look like. It is my hope to have a final product and be ready for the rulemaking process by early winter 2012. I will also require that a review of the driver’s education curriculum be an on-going process to ensure another 16 years does not pass before it is reviewed again.
I want to thank the committee for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today and for taking the time to consider these critical changes that I firmly believe will have a positive effect on the number of fatalities caused by young drivers. I look forward to working with you as you consider this report and as always, I am available for any questions you may have.