AUGUSTA — Newly licensed teenage drivers will have limited driving privileges for a longer time and will pay bigger fines if they make repeated mistakes, under a bill that won final approval by the Legislature on Friday.

Supporters say their mission is clear: Stem the tide of driving deaths in Maine involving teenagers, which has claimed more than a dozen lives since December.

“The loss of a child is the worst thing that can happen,” said Rep. Joan Nass, R-Acton. “You need to think that if we save one child with this bill, we have done our job.”

The bill, L.D. 1912, will require teenage drivers to get more experience before they get unrestricted driving privileges, and toughen penalties for those who commit violations.
Provisions of the bill include:

Increasing the period of restrictions for an intermediate license holder – a newly licensed driver who is younger than 18 – from six months to nine months.

Intermediate license holders are not allowed to drive with anyone other than family members or experienced licensed drivers, they can’t use cellphones while they drive, and they can’t drive between midnight and 5 a.m.

Increasing the fines for violating those rules to a range of $250-$500.

Increasing the fine for texting while driving for all drivers – teenagers and adults – from $100 to $250.

Increasing license suspensions for repeat teenage offenders, from 60 to 180 days for a second moving violation and from 90 days to one year for a third or subsequent offense.

The House voted 82-61 Friday night to give the bill final approval; the Senate approved it without a roll call vote shortly before 11:30 p.m.

Opponents of the bill questioned the increase in fines, saying some teens and their parents can’t come up with the money.

They also questioned the longer suspensions for repeat offenders. Lawmakers from rural parts of Maine said there’s no option to take public transportation for drivers who lose their licenses.

“In rural Maine, if you lose your license, it isn’t just that you can’t do your job. You can’t go to the store,” said Rep. Tyler Clark, R-Easton.

The bill went to legislators just this week, following a series of recommendations from Secretary of State Charlie Summers.

Summers spent months touring the state to talk to parents and others about driving laws, and convened a task force to come up with changes.

Although lawmakers were concerned at first about taking up a bill so late in the session, supporters argued that it’s important to take steps immediately because of the recent deaths.

“This sends a message that we are serious as a state,” said Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, who said his brother died in a car accident many years ago. “We don’t have the luxury to wait until next year.”

During debate in the Senate late Thursday, a handful of senators called for more time for consideration.

Sen. Elizabeth Schneider, D-Orono, said parents and teenagers in her district have no idea that the Legislature is considering such significant changes to driving laws. She said she and others want laws to reduce driving deaths involving teenagers, but she isn’t convinced that steeper penalties are the answer.

“Who wants, in a campaign year, to vote against something called ‘An Act to Encourage Responsible Teen Driving?’” she said.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, a former Maine secretary of state, stressed the urgency of the issue. “We have an epidemic of kids dying on the road,” he said. “We need to act.”

State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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