April 13, 2012

Tougher teen driving rules get first House, Senate OK

AUGUSTA — The House and Senate have given initial approval to a bill to strengthen penalties on teen drivers in an effort to reduce the number of teen driving deaths.

Debates in the Legislature have focused on the 19 motor vehicle fatalities involving young drivers 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, LD 1912, makes several changes to driving laws, including:

— Increasing the period of restrictions for an intermediate license holder from 180 to 270 days

— Increasing the fine imposed for violations to a range of $250-$500

— Increasing the fine for texting while driving to a range of $250-$500

— Increasing penalties for repeat offenders from 60 to 180 days for a second offense moving violation and from 90 days to one year for a third or subsequent offense.

Opponents questioned the increase in fines and the prolonged loss of license for repeat offenders, saying some teens or their parents can't afford to come up with the money. Rural lawmakers said there's no public transportation for those who lose their license.

"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 Senate voted 25-10 last night on an initial vote and the House passed it without a roll call this morning. It faces more House and Senate votes, which are likely to come this afternoon as the Legislature heads toward a recess.

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