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Teens dislike driving law

Drivers Education students at South Whidbey High School do not agree with the new law that prevents them from driving with friends during the first six months of their license. Jenny Smith drives fellow students Shalyn Mock and Robert Mast in the driver
Drivers Education students at South Whidbey High School do not agree with the new law that prevents them from driving with friends during the first six months of their license. Jenny Smith drives fellow students Shalyn Mock and Robert Mast in the driver's education car with instructor Joy Edwards.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

What do you mean I can't give my friends a ride?

A year-old state law aimed at making new drivers safer when they are on the road is not getting much support on South Whidbey. The law, which prevents new drivers from carting their friends around, gets a poor grade from teens who feel singled out as an age group.

"I don't think the law is fair," said 16-year-old Matthew Postlethwaite this week. "Most of us are good drivers. It's just because we were born in 1985 that we are stuck with this law."

Under the law -- the Graduated Licensing System -- teens become eligible for an intermediate drivers license when they turn 16. For their first six months behind the wheel, they are allowed to drive only with immediate family members. For the next six months, they are allowed to drive up to three teenaged friends in the car. If a driver has any traffic infractions or accidents during that period, the restrictions can last until age 18.

The new driver licensing law affects drivers who turn 16 after July 1, 2001.

Ron Hall, another teen driver, said he wants credit for the good driving he is doing now. He said most of the teens he knows are careful drivers. Even his father doesn't support the new law, he said.

"Most don't crash and have accidents with friends or family in the car. Teens wait a long time to get a driver's license, then to have to wait another six months before they can drive with anyone in the car."

But others, including law enforcement officers, believe the law will keep young drivers safer. Island County Sheriff's Sergeant Rick Norrie, a member of the agency's traffic division, called the Graduated Licensing Systm new and unique.

"It is going to take time for everyone to get used to it," he said. "Law enforcement, parents and teens need to be informed about it and that's what we are trying to do now. We are doing more education than enforcement."

If it comes down to enforcement, officers can issue $86 citations for violation of the law.

Also supportive are the people who help teens get behind the wheel in the first place. Joy Edwards, a driver's education instructor at South Whidbey High School, believes in the limitations required by the new law.

"There is reason behind it," she said. "I know the states who have the law see a reduction in teen accidents."

Some of her Edwards' students tell her they can drive safely on South Whidbey without the law. She counters by asking them how well the drive in city traffic.

"I remind them they have to learn how to deal with driving on the ferry, on the freeways and in heavy city traffic."

In recent interviews, several South Whidbey students said the law is impractical when it comes to moving students around. Robert Mast said have one teenager per car puts more teen drivers on the road.

"If two or more are going somewhere together, they will each end up taking a car," he said. "Then they will be racing and passing each other on the road. It could be more dangerous."

Shannon Engle's argues that more cars means more pollution. She also cited a personal experience in which it was helpful to have more passengers in the car.

"Several of us were riding with a friend who did not see the red light at Highway 525 and Maxwelton," she said. "If we hadn't warned her there would have been an accident."

Fifteen-year-old sophomore Jenny Newman has strong opinion about the new law. She said most students are not worried about being caught breaking the law.

"No one really cares about the law," she said. "I don't believe the cops are going to enforce it. The only way kids will get caught is if they are pulled over for another violation."

But there are young drivers who agree with the law.

Crystal Morton, 17, believes the law is a good idea because most teens need practice before they can safely drive with others in the car. Agreeing with her is Lindsay Barrett.

"I believe it is a good idea and a way decrease the number of teen auto accidents."

Good driving is rewarded under the the intermediate drivers license (IDL) law. If a teen avoids traffic violations and automobile accidents for the first twelve months of being issued an IDL, he or she can receive a regular licence at 17. The change over is automatic through the Department of Licensing

The consequences of the violating Include a warning letter to a driver's parents on a first offense and a suspended license on the second offense for six months or until the driver reaches the age of eighteen.

A third offense results in a suspension until age 18. A notice of the

suspension will be sent to the driver and to his or her parents.

The IDL law was inspired in part by the death of a Vancouver 14-year old who was killed in July 1999. The 16-year-old driving the car slammed it into a tree.

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