June 18, 2018
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Transportation Committee approves bill aimed at making stricter teen driving laws

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers moved quickly Tuesday on a late bill aimed at creating more deterrents for young drivers who break the law.

Members of the Transportation Committee approved most of the items contained in LD 1912, which was sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, and was the result of weeks of study by Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers.

The bill now goes to the House and Senate for consideration this week.

As drafted, LD 1912 seeks to increase the minimum fine for texting while driving, and also would increase fines and terms of license suspension for violating conditions of a provisional license. One of the proposed changes would have increased the minimum fine for texting while driving from $100 to $350, but the committee settled on a minimum fine of $250 in the version of the bill sent to the full Legislature.

Diamond, a former Secretary of State, said improving driving laws and requirements for young people has long been a priority for that office.

“Two things young people don’t want to lose is their cellphone and their driver’s license,” he said. “Increasing these fines should help send a message.”

Summers said he was compelled to study teen driving trends once he took office and spent weeks with a technical review panel that met it communities across the state.

“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 in his report.

The proposed changes in LD 1912 are just part of what Summers wants to do to improve teen driving.

In a report last month to the Transportation Committee, Summers recommended doubling, from 35 to 70, the number of supervised hours a driver with a permit must log before obtaining a driver’s license.

He also said 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.

Another 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.

Because Summers’ report was only completed last month, it wasn’t clear if legislation would be drafted in time for consideration this session.

Diamond said the bill that was drafted included only a small portion of what was outlined in the report, but he said additional changes could be brought back for the next legislative session.

Follow BDN reporter Eric Russell on Twitter @BDNPolitics.

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