ANNAPOLIS – A recent surge in teen traffic deaths has safety advocates renewing calls for restrictions on young and impaired drivers.
A bill to prohibit new teen drivers from transporting any teenage passengers who are not immediate family members was pre-filed Tuesday by Sen. Roy Dyson, D-St. Mary’s, and the General Assembly will take it up when it convenes in January. Dyson has been fighting for this bill for 10 years.
In the last legislative session, both Dyson’s bill and a similar House bill, sponsored by Montgomery County Democratic Delegates William Bronrott and Adrienne Mandel, were killed in the House Environmental Matters Committee.
“Some of my colleagues had misconceptions about what the bill would or would not do, and some did not recognize the high risks that go along with teen driving,” said Bronrott.
Some committee members, he said, were concerned the bill would be inconvenient for parents who would have to drive their kids around longer.
“By definition, teens are the least experienced drivers,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas Gansler. “A 16-year-old with a car full of other 16-year-olds makes for an even less safe situation,” because teen passengers distract the driver.
In Maryland, teens are eligible for a provisional license at 16. Provisional status lasts for 18 months after the teen acquires a license. A provisional driver cannot receive any moving violations and is restricted from driving between midnight and 5 a.m., with certain exceptions.
Teens are not eligible for a full driver’s license until they are at least 17 years and seven months of age.
Fourteen young people have been killed in driving accidents in the Washington region since Sept. 24, including six in Montgomery County, according to published reports.
“The overall problem of excessive speeding is resulting in deaths and major injuries on our highways,” said Bronrott. “Statistically we are making very little progress.”
But teen driving problems are not the only road issue the Maryland General Assembly should tackle in its upcoming session, safety advocates say.
Bronrott also supports tougher driving drunken driving laws.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and AAA more than 40 percent of crashes in Maryland involve alcohol.
“It’s time for the Legislature to get serious about impaired drivers and passenger restrictions for teen drivers,” said Kevin Quinlan, chief of the Safety Advocacy Division of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, at an Impaired Driving Coalition meeting in Hanover Thursday.
The coalition, which includes MADD, State Police, AAA and the State Highway Administration’s office of Traffic and Safety, among others, met to work on its legislative agenda for next year.
MADD Maryland and AAA Mid-Atlantic said they want to close loopholes in the impaired driver repeat offender laws.
Under current law, drunken drivers can be offered, at the judge’s discretion, probation before judgment for a first-time offense. Such a disposition may require the defendant to seek alcohol treatment, but it is not a conviction and the driver acquires no license points. It may only be offered once every five years.
Both AAA Mid-Atlantic and MADD want to eliminate probation before judgment for repeat offenders, arguing repeat drunken drivers can avoid facing enhanced penalties by accepting such judgments.
“Every repeat offender should spend some time in jail,” said Gansler, who opposes probation before judgment.
“Absolutely there is a problem with repeat offenders,” said James Dryden administrative judge for Anne Arundel District Court. However Dryden said that the system of offering probation before judgment works for most drunken driving offenders since they are not usually arrested again for drunken driving.
Regarding other legislative initiatives, Nancy Kelly, MADD Maryland policy liaison, says the organization also wants to see stiffer penalties imposed for “super drunk” drivers who have a blood alcohol content of .15 or higher.
“People need to be held accountable,” she said. – 30 – CNS-10-14-04