Montana bill looks out for teen drivers

| Wednesday, March 23, 2005

If a Montana lawmaker gets her way, this year, the state will end its distinction of being the only state without special driver’s license restrictions for teen drivers.

Sponsored by Sen. Kim Gillan, D-Billings, a bill now before state lawmakers would create a “graduated driver’s license” for new drivers under age 18 in the state. It overwhelmingly passed the Senate earlier this year and has been forwarded to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

Gillan, who has been trying for the past three sessions to get the proposal passed, said she hoped this was the year graduated driver’s licenses finally gained passage.

For drivers under 18, the bill – SB104 – would forbid driving at night in most circumstances and restrict the number of non-family, teen passengers for one year after getting a driver’s license.

The proposal would prohibit teens from being behind the wheel between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. during the first year licensed. It also would require drivers under age 18 to have at least 50 hours of driving experience while supervised by a parent or legal guardian, including 10 hours at night, before they could be issued a license.

The bill makes no changes in “learner’s permits,” which would still be available to teens as early as six months prior to their 15th birthday.

In addition, for the first six months licensed, a teen could not have more than one underage passenger in their vehicle, other than immediate family members. For the next six months licensed, no more than three non-family passengers under 18 would be allowed in the vehicle.

Violators would face a fine as much as $500. A subsequent violation could result in a six-month suspension of driving privileges. Drivers could only be pulled over for some other driving infraction.

The bill exempts teens accompanied by a licensed driver 18 or older, driving because of a hardship or for farm and ranch work. It also eliminates the night driving restriction for students headed to or from work, school or religious activities, or driving for an emergency.

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