Indiana bill would toughen driving rules

| 12/18/2008

In hopes of making the state’s roadways safer, Indiana state lawmakers have filed legislation for the 2009 regular session that would toughen teen driving restrictions.

Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 20 in Indiana and the nation. During a 10-year period that ended in 2004, nearly 900 lives were lost in crashes involving teen drivers in the state.

Advocates for tougher teen rules say young drivers are less likely to have fatal wrecks in states with strong restrictions intended to ease them into driving.

Republican Sens. Travis Holdman of Markle and Tom Wyss of Fort Wayne introduced a bill that would change the state’s teen driving rules. Among the changes included are making young drivers wait a little longer to get behind the wheel and prohibiting the use of telecommunication devices, such as cell phones.

“These are serious public safety issues, not only for teens, but for other motorists and passengers on Indiana highways,” Holdman said in a written statement.

Indiana law now allows teens to obtain a learner’s permit at age 15, as long as they are enrolled in a driver’s education course. A probationary license can be obtained at 16 years and one month.

Currently, anyone under 18 with a probationary license is prohibited from driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Exceptions are made for teens driving to and from school, work or church.

In addition, affected drivers are not allowed to have passengers in the vehicle for the first 90 days unless an adult is in the front seat.

The bill would change the minimum licensing age to 15 years and six months if teens take driver’s education classes, or 16 years without classes. The minimum age for probationary licenses would be 16 years and six months, or 17 years without classes.

Teens with license permits also would be required to complete 50 hours of supervised practice driving. At least 10 hours of nighttime driving would be mandated before obtaining their licenses.

In addition, probationary drivers would have to display a placard issued by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in the rear window of their vehicle. They also wouldn’t be allowed to carry passengers during the first six months, although certain exceptions would apply.

Also, drivers wouldn’t be able to get unrestricted licenses before age 18.

Critics of the plan say the government oversteps its boundaries with numerous restrictions. It is up to parents to make sure their children are prepared to drive, they say.

The bill to amend rules on teen driving – SB16 – can be considered during the session that begins Jan. 7.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Indiana, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor