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Graduated driver's license measure introduced

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

CHARLESTON -- Bills aimed at establishing a graduated driver's license program for those under age 18 have been introduced in the Senate and House of Delegates by Harrison County legislators.

Sen. Minard, D-Harrison, introduced a bill with provisions for graduated licenses into the Senate, while Del. Barbara Warner, D-Harrison, has placed what she says is an identical measure on the agenda of the House Roads and Transportation Committee, which she chairs. Sen. William Sharpe Jr., D-Lewis has signed on as a co-sponsor of Minard's bill.

Minard said the intent of the legislation is to save lives and hopefully to someday reduce insurance premiums.

"We looked at accident statistics and studied it all through the interim sessions," Minard said. "A high percentage of fatal accidents involve teen-agers. In the few states that already have it, the early indications are that it has saved lives."

While Minard would like to see insurance premiums decrease if the program is enacted, it is not immediately apparent it would.

"We have asked companies about premium decreases. They said the program would have to be in place for five years before actuaries would do a study on it," he added.

If the program were enacted, youths could apply for a Level I license at age 15 years, six months. During the six months before they reach 16, they would have to be accompanied by a licensed driver aged 21 or older. Also, they would not be allowed to drive after 11 p.m., Minard said.

At age 16, Level I license holders who had documented a specified number of driving hours or completed a driver education class, as well as being free of traffic violations, would be able to apply for a Level II license. They would then be able to drive after 11 p.m. if accompanied by a licensed driver over 21. Before 11 p.m., they would be allowed to drive unsupervised.

At age 17, youths would become eligible to be fully licensed, Minard said.

Minard added he does not expect the Legislature will take up the issue of license restrictions for senior citizens, who are also involved in a high percentage of accidents. It would raise the constitutional question of age discrimination, as well as opposition from extremely powerful seniors' lobbying groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons.

However, Minard said he would consider supporting a system of continuing driver education and tests of eyesight and dexterity as long as it were applied to all drivers, regardless of age.

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