MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA Montana this weekend sheds its distinction as the only state that does not restrict teen drivers through so-called graduated driver’s licenses. A law that was passed by the Legislature last year and takes effect Saturday requires greater adult oversight of young drivers. The law also restricts when, and with whom, teens may drive. Supporters say the new restrictions have reduced traffic accident and death rates among teens in other states. “It seems like most of the parents really like it once they find out what is going on,” said Patrick McJannet, operations chief for the state Motor Vehicle Division. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says a study found that crash rates for 16-year-old drivers were 20 percent lower in states with restrictions. Also, crash-free teens were twice as likely to have obeyed their state’s passenger restriction provisions. The safest teen drivers followed traffic laws and were watched carefully by a parent, AAA said. “Just think how many lives could be saved with the combination of the right laws and parental involvement,” said Denice Harris, AAA Montana spokeswoman. The new law puts into place three stages of teen driving privileges.
Under the first, a person who is at least 14 1/2 and obtains a learner’s permit must hold it for at least six months and complete 50 hours of certified driving. Next, at 15, the teen can get an intermediate license that restricts at what time of day he or she may drive. For the first six months, only one passenger under 18 may be in the car. During the second six months, no more than three passengers under 18 may be in the car. Teens will be prohibited from driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., except under certain circumstances, including work, school and emergencies. Exceptions to the restrictions allow more passengers if a sibling is being picked up. Another exception allows late-night driving for school events. At 16, drivers may qualify for unrestricted licenses if they have had intermediate permits for at least one year. Under the old law, which applies to anyone getting a permit before Saturday, unrestricted licenses may be obtained by teens as young as 15. Proponents of graduated licensing tried several times before 2005 to win passage of a Montana law. One measure was vetoed by former Gov. Judy Martz. In 2005 about 1,900 Montana crashes involved drivers 16 or younger, according to state records.