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Maine teens to face tough new driver’s license requirements

PORTLAND, Maine - If teenagers think it is tough to get a driver’s license now, just wait.

Maine’s secretary of state is developing new rules that would make it harder and more time-consuming for young drivers to get their licenses. Some of the rules could be in place by the end of March.

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Drivers between ages 16 and 24 make up about 11 percent of Maine’s licensed drivers but are involved in 29 percent of the state’s motor vehicle deaths and 38 percent of injuries, said Secretary of State Charlie Summer. Since Christmas, eight crashes involving young drivers have killed 12 people. The goal, Summers said, is to make roads safer by better preparing drivers.

Proposals under consideration include increasing the number of hours teens spend behind the wheel to get an intermediate license or setting an earlier curfew for when they must be off the road. Another would double, from six to 12 months, the time they must hold an intermediate license before they can get an unrestricted license.

“We’re licensing a young person who doesn’t necessarily have a lot of experience to drive a four- or five-thousand-pound piece of steel at, if you’re going north of Bangor, 75 miles per hour,’’ Summer said. “The far-reaching effects of some bad decisions by these young people can hurt not only them and their families, but whole communities.’’

Teenagers will probably agree with some of the proposals and be resistant to others, said Sarah Beth Campisi, 15, a sophomore at Thornton Academy in Saco who has a driver’s permit. Age also creates a division in their opinions, she said.

“My older friends or friends my age don’t mind as much because it’s not affecting us since a majority of us already have permits,’’ Campisi said. “But my younger friends panicked because they didn’t want to deal with that much more work. They want it to be easy and a piece of cake. They don’t understand it’s serious and that driving isn’t a right, it’s a privilege.’’

To get a driver’s license in Maine, students have to go through several steps.

First comes a permit, which teens can get if they are 15, have taken 30 hours of driver’s education, and passed a written test.

Next is an intermediate license. To get one, permitted drivers must complete 35 hours of practice driving with a supervising driver who is at least 20 and has had a license for at least two years. Five of the hours must be at night. Then, after six months, they must pass a road test. They also have to be at least 16.

Teens with intermediate licenses have some freedoms. They can drive alone, with family members, or with licensed drivers over 20, but not with other teenagers. And they cannot drive between midnight and 5 a.m. or use a cellphone while driving.

Finally comes an unrestricted license. Teens who have had an intermediate license for six months can get one. During the first two years with that license, a driving violation means they automatically lose their driving privileges for 30 days.

Summers said he supports requiring teens to log at least 70 hours of practice driving, rather than 35, and drive more at night before getting an intermediate license. He also said he thinks the minimum age of supervising drivers should be 25, not 20, while students hold permits.

He also backs a 10 p.m. curfew, rather than midnight, and increasing the length of time for an intermediate license to a full year. That way, he said, students will drive under supervision in four seasons before being given an unrestricted license.

Other ideas under discussion include requiring students to take an online course about traffic signs and other driving basics so they can devote more time to on-the-road driving in driver education courses. Some have raised the possibility of making permitted drivers have 100 hours of practice driving to get an intermediate license or raising the permit age to 16.

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