POLL QUESTION

New driver’s ed law will strand teens and parents alike, say critics

Posted Sept. 21, 2013, at 2:30 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 25, 2013, at 2:47 p.m.
Jacob Neal, 17, of Brewer listens to instruction from Jim Bair as he prepares for his first hour of driving Friday.
Linda Coan O'Kresik
Jacob Neal, 17, of Brewer listens to instruction from Jim Bair as he prepares for his first hour of driving Friday. Buy Photo
Jacob Neal, 17, of Brewer navigates the streets of Bangor during his first day of driving Friday with instructor Jim Bair.
Linda Coan O'Kresik
Jacob Neal, 17, of Brewer navigates the streets of Bangor during his first day of driving Friday with instructor Jim Bair. Buy Photo
Jacob Neal (left), 17, of Brewer focuses on the the road Friday as he takes his first drive with driving instructor Jim Bair (right), owner of Bair's Driving School in Bangor.
Linda Coan O'Kresik
Jacob Neal (left), 17, of Brewer focuses on the the road Friday as he takes his first drive with driving instructor Jim Bair (right), owner of Bair's Driving School in Bangor. Buy Photo
Jim Bair (left), owner of Bair's Driving School in Bangor, instructs student Jacob Neal, 17, of Brewer to make a left turn during Jacob's first driving class. Several new regulations will take effect on Oct. 9, 2013, including increasing the amount of hours a Learner's Permit holder must drive while accompanied by a parent or guardian from 35 hours to 70 hours.
Linda Coan O'Kresik
Jim Bair (left), owner of Bair's Driving School in Bangor, instructs student Jacob Neal, 17, of Brewer to make a left turn during Jacob's first driving class. Several new regulations will take effect on Oct. 9, 2013, including increasing the amount of hours a Learner's Permit holder must drive while accompanied by a parent or guardian from 35 hours to 70 hours. Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — A new state law requires 15-year-old Miranda Thibodeau to drive with adult supervision for 70 hours before she can qualify for a driver’s license.

Thibodeau figures it will take months before she has enough practice time.

“My father owns a lot of businesses,” the Winterport resident said Friday before counting off seven helmed by her father, Patrick. “My mother owns one. They will never have time to drive me.”

Thibodeau and several other Bair’s Driving School students joined a number of driver’s education teachers in saying that they oppose LD 1392, “An Act To Amend the Motor Vehicle Laws,” which goes into effect early next month.

The law doubles the training hours supervised by a licensed driver, from 35 to 70, and increases the number of hours of supervised night driving, from five to 10. It mandates that the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles be the only authority to issue learner’s permits, removing permit issuance from driver education schools.

Advocates testified to the state Legislature last spring that the law vastly improves driver education and safety. The increased training requirements fall more in line with national trends and replace outdated requirements, said Carleton Joy Jr., president of the Maine Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association board of directors.

Harry Epp, owner of Katahdin Driving Academy of Millinocket, said Joy’s board represented the wishes of driving schools in a group dominated by southern Mainers.

“I am vehemently against it,” Epp said of the law. “Their goal was power. They want to control what happens with driver’s ed schools in the state. They have some good ideas of what they want to do, but they are pushing their own agenda.”

Epp said he is mobilizing with other school owners to alter the law. The new law, he said, ignores the vast distances of northern Maine and the difficulties parents will have in fulfilling the new requirements.

“A lot of us feel the new law requirements are excessive,” Epp said.

Rural parents often work several jobs and need new drivers to assist with family chores and bolster family incomes. Teens who would participate in extracurricular school activities will find themselves unable to because parents can’t provide transportation, Epp said.

“This law works great for people in the city who have shorter distances to travel,” Epp said.

Susan Custis, a Lincoln Lakes region driver’s ed teacher and Epp’s daughter, said she found some good safety requirements in the law. However, having the state issue driver’s permits rather than schools creates a needless layer of inefficient bureaucracy. Permit issuance will be slowed by weeks or months, Custis said.

Joy anticipated some of those arguments in his testimony for LD 1268, a related bill that did not pass.

“We realize that some parents will ignore these requirements just as some parents ignore the current law. But there are many parents who will follow the best practices and when it is presented to them will follow these rules,” Joy said in his testimony.

“Many parents already realize that they want their young person to complete these goals, and by having them spelled out will encourage others to better prepare their new driver and not just log hours without thought to specific goals and outcomes,” he added.

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles must issue driving permits, advocates said, to conform to U.S. Department of Homeland Security regulations aimed at curbing false driver’s licenses.

The driver’s school students said they found much merit in the new law, but predicted that new drivers would abuse it in the name of efficiency. Jacob Neal, a 17-year-old from Amherst who attends high school in Brewer, said his mother has to give him a lot of rides.

Students who don’t feel like waiting to qualify for their licenses will put themselves behind the wheel when they shouldn’t, said 16-year-old Tyler England of Bangor.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story requires correction. The amended law does not require a licensed driver who supervises a learner to be at least 25 years of age, as was originally reported. The age requirement remains 20. The amended law does not extend the curfew hours for learners nor extend the driver-permit requirement period, as was originally reported. The legislation that changed the law is LD 1392 “An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicle Laws,” not LD 1268 “An Act to Update Driver Education Requirements,” as was originally reported. The number of members of the Maine Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association was not immediately available and an incorrect number was removed. The BDN apologizes for these errors.

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