New Montana law looks out for teen drivers

| 5/13/2005

Montana lawmakers have ended the state’s distinction of being the only state without special driver’s license restrictions for teen drivers.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed a bill last month creating a “graduated driver’s license” for new drivers under age 18 in the state. The new law will take effect in July 2006.

For drivers under 18, the new law – previously SB104 – forbids driving at night in most circumstances and restricts the number of non-family, teen passengers for one year after getting a driver’s license.

It prohibits teens from being behind the wheel between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. during the first year licensed. It also requires a driver 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 obtaining a license.

The new law makes no changes in “learner’s permits,” which will 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 cannot 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 are allowed in the vehicle.

Violators would face at least 20 hours of community service rather than paying a fine. The original text of the bill sought to fine violators as much as $500.

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