June 22, 2018
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Bill aimed at teen drivers wins Maine Legislature’s approval

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature has approved a bill aimed at creating stronger deterrents for teenage drivers who break the law, despite concerns from lawmakers that the measure was rushed and that it creates penalties that are too strict.

The Senate voted 25-10 after significant debate late Thursday evening. The House engaged in similar debate on Friday before approving the bill 82-61.

LD 1912 was drafted from a set of recommendations made recently by Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers, who has been studying teen driving trends for months.

The bill increases the minimum fine for texting while driving from $100 to $250, increases fines and terms of license suspension for violating conditions of a provisional license, and increases the amount of time a repeat offender would lose his or her license.

The measure is meant to help cut down on the number of bad accidents caused by teen drivers. Since Christmas, there have been 19 fatalities involving teen drivers in Maine.

But some lawmakers raised the question of whether the bill tries to “legislate common sense.” Others wondered if it was too punitive.

Rep. Michael Clarke, D-Bath, said he agreed that Maine should do more to educate and promote safe driving, but he thought the deterrents were too strong.

Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro, pointed out that the bill strengthens penalties such as the fine increase for texting while driving for everyone, not just teens — and wondered whether that was fair to experienced, adult drivers.

Rep. Tyler Clark, R-Easton, opposed the increase in the amount of time a license could be taken away.

“It’s too extreme,” he said. “In rural Maine, if you lose your license, you can’t do anything.”

The bill was voted out of the Transportation Committee on Monday, the same day the measure faced a sparsely attended public hearing.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, who sponsored LD 1912, said what was drafted included only a small portion of what was outlined in Summers’ report to the Transportation Committee.

Among the recommendations not included were:

• Doubling, from 35 to 70, the number of supervised hours a driver with a permit must log before obtaining a driver’s license.

• Requiring 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.”

• Moving some of the driver education classroom time to online learning, which Summers said would allow instructors to devote more quality time to direct instruction behind the wheel.

Diamond said because the bill came in so late, those broader initiatives were stripped but they could be brought back for the next legislative session.

Follow BDN writer Eric Russell on Twitter at @BDNPolitics.

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