BOB CHAMBERLIN / Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times file. Christian Kerr, 16, of Long Beach sits in his family's Honda Odyssey minivan. The teenager, like many of his peers, is in no hurry to learn to drive. "Getting a license just isn't a priority," he said.

California bills would add restrictions on teen drivers

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2013 - 11:22 am

California lawmakers moved Monday to further restrict teenage drivers, including approval of one measure to require that newly licensed 18- and 19-year-olds follow rules that now apply to younger motorists.

Two bills approved by the Assembly Transportation Committee piggyback on current restrictions on drivers under 18, such as requiring a driver's education course, 50 hours of supervised behind-the-wheel training and a year-long provisional stage in which they cannot drive with passengers under 20 or be on the road after 11 p.m.

• Assembly Bill 724 by Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, would apply to drivers who get licensed for the first time at age 18 or 19. It would require 18- and 19-year-old novice drivers to complete a 30-hour driver education course and six hours of professional driver training before being subject to the same one-year nighttime and occupancy restrictions as 16- and 17-year-olds. A provisional license would have to be held for 12 months or until age 20 to receive a full license.

• Assembly Bill 1113 by Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, would change the existing provisional program for 16- and 17-year-olds by making the nighttime restriction to 10 p.m. and increasing the age for passengers to 21 years old. Those provisions under Frazier's bill would be lifted when a driver turns 18.

"A license is a privilege, and statistics show that if we can encourage kids to get training they will be much safer," Cooley said.

The provisional period has been credited with reduced accidents, injuries and deaths among teenage drivers. However, an increasing number of teens are waiting until they are 18 to obtain their license, which allows them to forgo driver's education and other provisional restrictions.

"If you sit on your hands, you can wait until you are 18 and you are free and clear," Cooley said. "We are trying to find a way to get these older kids in training to bring down the rate of accidents."

Studies by the American Medical Association and AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety have found that the first year on the road is the most dangerous for new drivers, no matter their age.

Leeana Clegg of Palo Cedro in Shasta County said driving restrictions are a way to prevent unnecessary deaths across the state. Clegg testified in support of Cooley's bill, saying her 14-year-old son's 2009 death was "100 percent preventable." He was a passenger in a vehicle driven by a 17-year-old.

"I feel like this will save a lot of families the heartache we've been suffering," Clegg said.

Lawmakers noted that Cooley's bill could face challenges because 18- and 19-year-olds are adults, who are more likely to have jobs and be affected by nighttime driving restrictions. Cooley's bill allows for some leeway for the nighttime restrictions through signed notes from parents or work.

Several committee members said they had reservations about Cooley's bill because of the potential to add driving restrictions to those in the military.

"It seems odd to have someone serve our country and then have them drive with their mother," said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco.

Kelly Browning, the executive director for Impact Teen Drivers, said the added restrictions make everyone safer. Impact Teen Drivers and the California Association of Highway Patrolmen sponsored Cooley's bill.

Both bills now head to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Call Melody Gutierrez, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow her on Twitter @melodygutierrez.

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