Several new laws went into effect in late August that should keep new, teenage drivers and Maine roads safer.

Secretary of State Charlie Summers recently reminded motorists of the new driving regulations, which were passed into law by the Legislature, and became effective on Aug. 30.

One of the new laws, “An Act To Encourage Responsible Teen Driving,” is the product of collaboration between Summers, bill sponsor Sen. Bill Diamond and the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation, according to the Secretary of State’s office. The changes include increased fines and suspensions for violating conditions on juvenile provisional and intermediate licenses.

A juvenile provisional license is defined as one issued to a person who is under the age of 21, for two years following the date of issue, or until they turn 21, whichever occurs last, according to state statute. An intermediate license is a restricted license issued to a person under 18. The restrictions include not driving between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m., not using a cell phone and not having passengers except family members, according to statute.

Young drivers who commit a traffic violation while operating on a juvenile provisional license will now have their license suspended for 30 days for a first offense, 180 days for a second offense and one year for third or subsequent offenses, according to Summers.

In addition to a $50 reinstatement fee, the driver will also be required to complete a driver improvement course in order to restore his or her driving privileges. Drivers who commit major violations ”“ driving under the influence, operating after suspension or criminal speeding ”“ will face a $200 reinstatement fee, and possible community service and will have to pass another exam.

The restrictions that apply to drivers operating with an intermediate license ”“ no passengers except family members, no cell phone use and restricted driving hours ”“ will be extended from six to nine months. A violation of any of the conditions of an intermediate license would mean suspension for 60 days for the first offense, 180 days for a second offense and one year for a third or subsequent offense.

These changes should help keep young people safer while they are driving and allow them time to reflect and suffer the consequences of not being able to drive once an offense has been committed. The worst punishment for a teenager who is enjoying his or her new-found freedom behind the wheel, is taking away that freedom.

Too many young people have been injured and killed since the introduction of cell phones and texting. Hopefully these measures, along with educational programs like those where students try to text and drive a golf cart or wear “drunk goggles,” will teach young people to be responsible while driving.

The number of highway deaths in Maine is on the rise, and it is all too often that police report a person was using their cell phone at the time of a crash ”“ especially when a young driver is involved.

The Associated Press reported in August that Maine highway deaths were up 50 percent over last year. The Bureau of Highway Safety reported that 97 people died on Maine roads by early August, compared with only 65 deaths at the same point the previous year.

While the majority of the new regulations impact young drivers, the minimum fine for texting and driving was also increased from $100 to $250 for all drivers. Summers said the Maine State Police report that texting while driving is a leading contributor to highway crashes.

It is important for adults to lead by example and leave texting for when they reach their destination. The comments from State Police and the number of highway deaths shows that distracted driving affects us all and is something that every driver needs to be aware of and committed to stopping.

While it will be difficult to curb texting in cars, heightening the fines and consequences for all drivers is a step in the right direction. To avoid that dreaded knock on the door from one of Maine’s police officers, though, drivers would be well served to stop texting while driving and teach their children, friends and extended family to do the same.

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Today’s editorial was written by City Editor Robyn Burnham representing the majority opinion of the Journal Tribune Editorial Board. Questions? Comments? Contact Managing Editor Kristen Schulze Muszynski by calling 282-1535, Ext. 322, or via email at [email protected].