Secretary of State proposes stricter changes to teen driving laws

Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers
Posted March 26, 2012, at 6:35 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s secretary of state has recommended doubling the number of supervised hours a driver with a permit must log before obtaining a driver’s license, and more than tripling the minimum fine for texting while driving.

In a report to the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, Secretary of State Charlie Summers also suggested that anyone under the age of 21 should hold a permit for one year instead of six months so they can experience “supervised driving time in all four of Maine’s seasons,” and called for increasing the age of an accompanying driver from 20 to 25.

Summers recommends doubling the number of supervised hours to be completed for those with a driver’s permit from 35 to 70.

On the penalty side, Summers wants to increase the minimum fine for texting while driving from $100 to $350, and increase the suspension periods for traffic infractions imposed to drivers who have juvenile provisional licenses.

Those recommendations — and several others — are the culmination of weeks of study by a technical review panel Summers commissioned to look at the state’s driver education system.

That panel held a number of community conversations across the state to hear suggestions and concerns.

During that time, Maine saw a rash of teen driving fatalities. Between Christmas and Monday, there were 12 fatal crashes, resulting in a total of 16 deaths, where the at-fault driver was between the ages of 15 and 24.

“There was near unanimity from the public for more severe penalties for young, inexperienced drivers who break the law, for mandating more time-behind-the-wheel experience before getting a driver’s license and modernizing driver’s education in order to address today’s challenges that drivers face,” Summers wrote.

It’s not likely that any changes will be made this legislative session, which is scheduled to end early next month. It’s more likely that the Transportation Committee will meet over the summer and fall to draft legislation for consideration by the next Legislature.

Summers said he envisions more work outside of his proposed changes to Maine law.

“I am committed to modernizing and enhancing the current driver education program and to make driver’s education more accessible to all students in Maine,” he wrote. “I intend to improve the method in which the curriculum is delivered and require more practical experience behind the wheel.”

One suggestion is to move some of the driver’s education classroom time to online learning, which Summers said would allow instructors to devote more quality time to direct instruction behind the wheel.

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