GLEN BURNIE – Mike Lichtenberg, 17, was waiting to get his driver’s license when he learned about tough new licensing restrictions that could take effect for teens like his friend, 16-year-old Nick Conway.
“I feel sorry for you,” he said to Nick, who does not have a learner’s permit yet.
Under a tough new graduated-licensing bill approved by lawmakers, it will take new drivers longer to get their licenses, they will be on probation longer and it will be easier for the state to take their licenses away.
Backers hailed the bill as a needed step “to reduce the teen-age carnage” on the roads. Mike’s friend, Nick, had a different reaction.
“I think it really sucks,” Conway said, while waiting at the Glen Burnie Motor Vehicle Administration office for Lichtenberg to get his full license. “I don’t see how it’s going to help much.”
Gov. Parris Glendening has not said whether he will sign the bill, which was the American Automobile Association’s “No. 1 key focus” this year. The changes would take effect Oct. 1, if signed into law.
Under the bill, new drivers will have to wait four months after they get their learner’s permits before they can go for a driver’s license, up from the two weeks they must now wait. All new drivers, not just those under age 18, will have to take driver’s education classes.
Those under age 18 will still get a “provisional” license, but they will have to keep a clean driving record for 18 months before they can turn it in for a regular license. Currently, the provisional license lasts only a year.
The provisional licenses will also be subject to a “three- strikes” policy for the first time. On the first infraction, the 18-month provisional period starts over and the driver has to take driver-improvement classes; on the second, the 18-month clock starts again and the driver may have a 30-day license suspension; and on the third, the license could be revoked for 180 days.
There will still be a midnight to 5 a.m. driving curfew for those under age 18 and drivers with learner’s permits would still need to be accompanied by a supervising driving who is 21 and has been licensed for at least three years.
But the bill will make the supervising driver keep a “skills log” of the new driver’s progress. The log book will have to be turned in before the new driver can get a provisional license, said Andrew Krajewski, program director of driver education and licensing at MVA.
The bill originally called for a 10 p.m. curfew for young drivers and a six-month learner’s permit, but those measures were softened in the face of complaints from parents and teens.
Still, the bill makes Maryland driving laws “a much more serious program” said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid- Atlantic. “We really needed to take some strong action to reduce the teen-age carnage.”
Anderson cited statistics to back up that “teen-age carnage,” which he blamed on teens’ inexperience, poor judgment and immaturity:
* Car crashes kill more people between the ages of 15 and 20 than any other cause, including AIDS, homicide, cancer or heart disease or other injuries.
* New drivers are three to four times more likely to be involved in a crash than more experienced drivers.
* While the average person has five accidents per million miles, a 16-year-old has 43 per million miles and a 17-year-old 30 per million miles
AAA and state legislators expect the changes will resonate with teens, who they say revere driving privileges as their ticket to freedom, adulthood and peer acceptance.
In fact, it was teens on the task force that helped draft the bill that said tougher laws were needed for young drivers to value their driving privileges, Krajewski said.
“The intent of the whole thing is to make sure they are a better driver,” Krajewski said.
Roland Cornish, a driver’s license examiner at the Glen Burnie MVA office, said he likes the changes.
“It’s really a lot of young kids in a hurry to get their licenses and they don’t know the rules and regulations of the road,” Cornish said.
Mike Lichtenberg said the process from the time he got his learner’s permit to getting his provisional license took him about a month.
“I hated everything about getting a license,” said Mike of Linthicum, who would have had to wait another three months for his license under the new standards.
That longer wait is fine with Hoyt Bonner, 45, of Baltimore, whose 16-year-old stepson had just passed his driving skills test at the Glen Burnie MVA on a recent Friday.
Even his stepson, Adam Swanson, said the new laws “are pretty good” and might lead to fewer collisions. He said he did not think the changes were unfair to teens.
Legislators who supported the bill said they are not worried that teens will feel they are being picked on. Identical House and Senate versions of the graduated-license proposal passed.
“I don’t care what they think,” said Del. Wheeler Baker, D- Queen Anne’s, a co-sponsor of the House bill. “Sometimes you have to protect people from themselves.”