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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New Hampshire Calls For Teen Driver Permits

Only U.S. State Without Learner's Permit Requirement Seeks to Raise Age Qualification

Although New Hampshire is the only state that still allows young people to begin driving without a learner's permit, Rep. Evalyn Merrick, D-Lancaster is proposing that the law be changed to make teens wait until they turn 16, pass a written exam, and earn a learner's permit before taking their parents out for a drive. Furthermore, the bill proposes to raise the age of qualification for a youth driver's license from 16 to 17.

Additionally, the bill also would add 40 hours beyond driver education class of supervised driving with a parent before the teenager could be eligible for a youth license, Merrick said. Ten of those hours would have to be performed at night.

But the key component, Merrick said, is the learner's permit.

The experts believe the extra maturity and experience could make the passage to adulthood safer for everyone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and AAA Northern New England all report that the leading cause of death for people 16 to 20 is car accidents.

Drivers between 16- to 19-years-old are more likely to crash than any other age group, according to the CDC's Web site, and four times more prone to have a crash for each mile they drive.

These experts say the proven way to reduce these accidents is called the graduated driver's license program.

Pat Moody, a spokesman for AAA Northern New England, says that New Hampshire does have a graduated driver licensing system, but it's inadequate, and one of the critical missing pieces is the permit.

"We've got some very brave parents out there to get behind the wheel with a kid and just start driving," he said. "But the great thing about a permit is it gives the parents some information prior to starting the driving process."

According to Moody, the permit process would engage the parents by supplying them with tips about how to teach driving skills, and bringing them up to speed with changes in the law they might have overlooked.

Moody is backing Merrick's bill, with some changes. He wants teens to be able to get a license at the age of 16 ½, not 17. He is also calling for more milestones along the way to lifting restrictions on the license.

However, Jack Grube, driving education coordinator at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, feels that New Hampshire driver education is working just fine.

"I don't see any shortcomings in the system right now," he said.

Because the bill is still not in final form, Grube did not want to comment on Merrick's bill. Grube said in theory, he could support a permit, but not if the teens have to wait until they're 16. The single most important thing in driver education, he said, is increased time with a parent, so there's no advantage in deleting six months when the teens could use that time to be practicing driving.

Grube does support another bill, sponsored by Rep. Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, which calls for the increase in supervised hours of driving time the teenagers must log before they qualify for a youth license.

Grube said, "A permit doesn't make a better driver."

Teens also have reservations about the efficacy of a learner's permit.

Stephen Casazza, 15, a sophomore at Salem High, said, "I don't know how you judge if someone's ready to drive by an essay or a written test. I don't think it would work."

Although he has yet to start driving, he reckons that teens could learn the rules of the road for the test and forget them later once they got behind the wheel.

Another Salem High sophomore, Richard DeSantis, 16, agreed.

"A bad driver is a bad driver," he said.

DeSantis began driving with his parents, but said he won't take the wheel with his mother in the car anymore. While practicing in the parking lot, she got too nervous.

"I'd be going about 5 mph," he said. "She starts screaming, 'Brake!'"

Schools, parents and communities can learn more about driver education and safety at America's Driver License Headquarters Try a Free DMV Practice Test online!

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