Youthful Drivers – Curbing Some Risks

Far too often we read about a car full of teenagers careening off the roadway, its driver and passengers killed or terribly injured. Powerful engines, winding roads, hormones,distractions, youthful fearlessness, the reasons are many, the results are always tragic.
The Pennsylvania House and Senate are currently at odds over some provisions in a House bill aimed at eliminating some of the risk factors which are often associated with these tragic accidents. First, let’s review the main provisions of the House bill and discuss how they would change our current practices.

Currently, a person under age 18 can take the exam for a junior driver’s license if that person holds a permit for six months and presents a certificate showing that he or she has completed 50 hours of practical driving experience. The new bill would require 65 hours of practical driving experience including no less than 10 hours of nighttime driving and 5 hours of inclement weather driving.
Presently, the holder of a junior driver’s license faces no restrictions regarding the number of passengers that can be in his or her car. The new bill provides that a junior driver may not drive a vehicle with more than 1 passenger who is under 18 years of age. The new bill provides one exception here, with parental approval, a junior driver may drive a vehicle with passengers who are siblings or relatives who live in the same dwelling. Thus, with parental permission, a junior driver could pick up her two younger siblings from school or take family members wherever they need to go.

The House bill would also prohibit any driver with a learner’s permit or junior driver’s license from driving a vehicle while using any interactive wireless communications device which the bill defines as any cell phone, PDA, text messaging device, Blackberry™ or laptop computer.

The only exception is that a person may use a wireless communications device to contact 511 service or the 911 system to report an accident or an emergency. Significantly, the House bill makes driving while using these devices a primary offense which means that an officer who observes a driver using a device can stop that driver and issue the appropriate citation.

Some Pennsylvania House members complain that the Senate version waters down this teen driving bill. For example, the Senate version would make driving while using a communications device a secondary offense, the officer could only stop and cite a driver who has violated some other provision of the motor vehicle code. The senators apparently did not believe that law enforcement has sufficient manpower to enforce this provision as a primary offense and would prefer to make it a secondary offense and increase educational efforts to convince teens to comply with the ban.

The Senate version would also allow a junior driver to drive a vehicle containing up to three non-family members who are under the age of 18 but only after the junior driver has held his or her junior driver’s license for six months. The senators note that in many rural areas of Pennsylvania, mass transit is not available and people must travel farther for various events and thus depend more on friends, neighbors and car pools. The Senate version also removed the requirement for the additional 15 hours of training, including the 10 hours of nighttime driving and 5 hours of inclement weather driving.

I suppose the good news is that our law makers are focusing on ways to reduce these tragic accidents. Until new laws are passed, dads and moms may have to be the heavyweights. Before you give your keys to your teenage driver, you might want to enact some of your own laws . . . and, by the way, welcome to the world of gray hair.

John A. Orlando, Esquire can be reached in his office at 115 Fayette Street, by phone at (610) 897-2576 or by email at Please visit our website at