LARGO – Gov. Robert Ehrlich is asking the Maryland General Assembly to tighten teen driving rules after a spate of accidents involving minors culminated in multiple fatalities last fall.
Ehrlich wants to lengthen the learners permit period from four to six months; toughen the provisional licensing period with violators of seat belt and curfew restrictions being given 90-day suspensions; and withhold licenses until age 21 for anyone caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Ehrlich, his wife, Kendel, and surprise guest — Prince George’s County resident Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele — announced the proposals at Largo High School where about 1,500 sophomores, juniors and seniors lined the bleachers in the school’s gymnasium.
“The legislation we want passed gives teens more time to learn how to drive,” Ehrlich said.
Driver’s education has been deemphasized, he said, and Maryland doesn’t focus enough on negligent drivers.
Ehrlich began his presentation by telling students of an early morning accident in Prince George’s County in which two men were injured when a car carrying four or five young people jumped a curb, hitting them. Both are hospitalized, one with life-threatening injuries, County Police said.
“A young person made a bad decision,” Ehrlich said.
The governor told the students 106 people under the age of 21, died in Maryland last year.
Steele said his son is going through the licensing process and “is well trained.”
“Some other kids may not be. Those ones we need to reach.”
The state’s first lady addressed the students first.
“You are our No. 1 priority,” she said, and added that her husband has focused on education and teen driving safety. But she recommended that teens “restrict the number of passengers in the car” themselves.
Delegate Adrienne A. Mandel, D-Montgomery, has presented a bill that mandates the number of passengers in a teenager’s car.
In an interview, she said, “17 crashes in the metro Washington area in past months have been caused by distractions, lack of experience and feeling among our teens that they are invulnerable. We have reams of documentation and studies that prove those factors are more significant that many parents and teens realize.”
Also in a later interview, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety Vice President Jackie Gillan said, “I think this proposal is an important step forward.”
A spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, Lon Anderson said, “The governor bringing his leadership to this issue is the most important thing.”
But Anderson, Gillan and others believe more needs to be done. They support the legislation introduced by Mandel and Delegate William A. Bronrott, D-Montgomery, to curtail cell phone use and limit the type of passenger in a teenager’s vehicle.
Safety can be accomplished, by “strictly limiting the number of passengers in the car with new teen drivers. Cars with inexperienced drivers quickly become party barges,” Anderson said. “We want to limit the party barge.”