Pike Co. legislators lukewarm

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 9, 2000

on teenage driving law


Staff Writer

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Feb. 8, 2000 10 PM

If Alabama legislators so choose, it won’t be just parents restricting when teenagers can drive.

A bill before the Alabama Legislature would prevent 16-year-olds from riding around after midnight.

The bill sponsored by Rep. John Hawkins, R-Vestavia, will be considered by the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee this week.

This is not the first time Hawkins has introduced the legislation. Last year, his bill passed the House and Senate committee, but died in the Senate on the last night of the session.

It will be up to members of the House whether Alabama should become the 39th state to institute a graduated driver’s license, which would limit when teens can be on the roadways.

Under Hawkins’ bill, 15-year-olds will take a written test and get a Level 1 license, allowing the teen to drive accompanied by a parent, grandparent, legal guardian or person over 21 in the vehicle.

Then, at 16, the individual can take a road test and get a Level 2 license as long as he or she has received no traffic tickets or citations in the previous six months. The teenager will also be required to have a permission slip signed by a parent stating the teen can drive unsupervised.

What might upset some teenagers with a Level 2 license is they will not be allowed to drive between midnight and 6 a.m. unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian or are traveling for work, school, church or an emergency.

Also no more than four people can be in the vehicle unless those individuals are parents or guardians.

Upon turning 17, a teen will be able to get a Level 3 license, which has no restrictions attached. If the individual has received a ticket or citations, that person will have to maintain a clean driving record for six months before being given a Level 3 license.

Marty Spellicy, director of the Alabama Traffic Safety Center at the University of Montevallo, told the Associated Press there is support for the concept, but concerns the bill will create too much work for the Alabama Department of Public Safety.

According to Spellicy, statistics on Alabama’s 6-year-old drivers warrant restrictions.

Sen. Wendell Mitchell, who represents Pike County, has some concerns about the proposed legislation.

Although he admits he doesn’t know a lot about the bill, Mitchell said he does not see a consistency in setting the restrictions, yet allowing exceptions to the rule.

Mitchell also wondered aloud how the legislation can be enforced.

"It sounds like a bill that has some merit, but needs to be studied more," Mitchell said.

State Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, also has some questions about the bill regarding enforcement.

Boothe also questioned whether a teen getting up at 3 a.m. to go hunting would fall under the exceptions.

"The purpose of it is good, but it probably needs some work," Boothe said.

In 1996, 16-year-old drivers made up 1 percent of the licensed drivers in the state, but were involved in 4.5 percent of accidents. In other words, approximately one out of every five 16-year-olds had an accident before turning 17.

National statistics indicate 16-year-olds are involved in more accidents than an other age and are also more likely not to wear seat belts.

Hawkins has indicated his reason for introducing the legislation is because inexperience, inmaturity and distractions caused by friends in the car are increasing the accidents rates among teen drivers.

Spellicy said more traffic accidents involving 16-year-old drivers occur between 7 to 8 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m., but said restricting driving after midnight will help because that is when drivers are more likely to get tired and are more likely to encounter drunk drivers.

Hawkins said he has gotten support from different agencies, but is "catching a lot of flack" from his grandchildren.