Summers proposes changes to young driver provisions

Posted Wednesday, March 28, 2012 in News

Summers proposes changes to young driver provisions

by Gina Hamilton

AUGUSTA — Charlie Summers, Maine's secretary of state, is recommending changes that will affect young people and their ability to drive in Maine. Summers said he was motivated to examine Maine's young driver provisions when he learned that many of Maine's students are choosing to wait until their 18th birthday to get a license, because there is no requirement for driver's education for adults before taking the test. 

"I was astonished; and it bothered me to think that we have a 'two-tier' system in Maine where students who have money take driver's education and those who can't afford it, don't. Even if students in rural Maine want to work in order to pay for driver's education, they would have to drive 10 to 15 miles to a job location. They find themselves in a 'catch-22' where they can't work without a driver's license and they can't get a driver's license prior to age 18 unless they take driver's education. These facts deeply troubled me and upon returning to Augusta, I began questioning our driver's education program and current curriculum in order to come up with a solution to these barriers that are preventing many young people from getting their driver's license before they turn 18; and in so doing, I learned the curriculum has not been updated since 1996," he said.

His solution? Make driver's education mandatory for everyone. Summers says that moving a good portion of the driver's education program to online instruction can save student drivers money. He also said that anyone who is under the age of 21 should have to have a permit for a year, so the young driver can experience driving in all Maine's seasons before getting a license.

During his examination of the issue, he held a number of community conversations across the state. In the same period, Maine saw a rash of teen driving fatalities. Between Christmas and now, there were 12 fatal crashes, resulting in 16 deaths, where the at-fault driver was under the age of 24. Some of those were caused by distracted driving, especially texting while driving. Summers would increase penalties for cell-phone use and texting from $100 to $350. Summers presented his proposals to the Transportation Committee this week. Here are all of his proposals:

1. Increase the number of hours to be completed while operating with a driver's permit from 35 hours (including five hours of night driving) to 70 hours (including 10 hours of night driving);

2. Extend the length of time a person under the age of 21 must hold a permit from six months to one year to ensure supervised driving time in all four of Maine's seasons;

3. Increase the age of the accompanying driver from 20 to 25 years of age;

4. Extend the period of restrictions while on an intermediate driver's license from six months to nine months;

5. Increase the suspension periods for traffic infractions imposed while operating with a juvenile provisional license from 30 to 60 days for a first offense; 60 to 180 days for a second offense; and 90 days to one year for third or subsequent offenses;

6. Require a driver-improvement course be completed by a juvenile whose license is suspended;

7. Require an enhanced reinstatement fee for a suspension resulting from a traffic offense while holding a provisional license to $100; and require an enhanced reinstatement fee of $500 when convicted of a major offense (as defined in the habitual offender law) while holding a provisional license;

8. Require anyone convicted of a major offense (as defined in the habitual offender law) while operating with a provisional license to complete a driver-license examination prior to reinstatement of their driving privileges;

9. Increase the minimum fine for texting and driving from $100 to $350;

10. Require anyone over the age of 18 and obtaining their driver's license for the first time after Dec. 31, 2012, to complete six hours of an approved driver's education course.

It isn't likely that any changes will be made this legislative session, which is scheduled to end early next month. However, the Transportation Committee will most likely meet over the summer and fall to draft legislation for consideration by the next Legislature.

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