Just got this press release from the office of Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks/144th). House Bill 9, passed early this month, now has the governor's signature on it. To read how House Bill 9 will save lives, read my Oct. 11 column here.
Here's the release:
HARRISBURG – Parents will now have the force of law behind them when making decisions about their teens’ driving habits thanks to legislation that was signed today by the governor, said Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks/144th), who sponsored the upgrades to Pennsylvania’s Graduated Driver’s Licensing (GDL) law for young drivers.
“Sadly, teen drivers have fatal crashes at four times the rate of adult drivers, merely because of their age and inexperience,” said Watson, who was on hand today at the signing of House Bill 9 at Harrisburg High School. “We can’t bring every teen home, but we can update our laws to increase training, reduce distractions of other teen passengers and require them to buckle up.”
House Bill 9 addresses a combination of factors, including first-hand accounts of crashes; scientific data of crash risk factors; and reports from parents, law enforcement, the medical community and others.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), fatalities in crashes that involved a 16- or 17-year-old driver in 2010 increased from 40 in 2009 to 57 last year, a 43 percent increase. In addition, more than half of teen driver and passenger deaths are the direct result of the failure to buckle up.
Among its provisions, the new law requires everyone under the age of 18 in a vehicle to be properly buckled up, whether in a seat belt or a child safety or booster seat. As a primary offense, law enforcement can pull over a driver if an officer sees that someone under age 18 isn’t properly secured.
In addition, the new law increases the number of hours from 50 to 65 for behind-the-wheel training for those with learner’s permits. Ten of those hours must be at night and five logged during inclement weather.
“We’ve also learned that the greatest chance of crashing occurs in the first six months after licensure and that inexperience and distractions are the two greatest risks when teen drivers are behind the wheel,” Watson said, citing a recent survey in which nearly 60 percent of people polled support tougher laws for holders of junior driver’s licenses, and nearly three in four believe that passenger limits should be set for teen drivers.
The third component of the new law sets restrictions for the number of passengers in a vehicle driven by a teen. During the first six months of being licensed, a teen can only carry one, non-family passenger who is younger than 18. After the first six months and until the junior driver turns 18, a limit of three non-family passengers until 18 is permitted.
If the junior driver has been involved in a reportable accident for which the junior driver is partially or fully responsible in PennDOT’s opinion, the one-person passenger limit will apply until age 18.
In addition to the governor, Watson was joined by the parents of teens who died as a result of vehicle crashes. The new law will be called “Lacey’s Law” in memory of Lacy Gallagher, a young teen who was killed in a vehicle crash.
The new law also requires PennDOT to biannually compile a report noting the number of accidents involving junior drivers who were transporting multiple passengers under age 18. The report would note the number of passengers under age 18 and whether the drivers and passengers under 18 were wearing seatbelts.
Pennsylvania joins more than 40 other states that have upgraded their GDL laws to respond to national crash data. States that have updated their GDL programs report as much as a 40 percent drop in the number of fatal crashes among 16-year-old drivers.
“This legislation reflects the need to give our junior drivers – those between the ages of 16 ½ and 18 – with the proper tools to be safe behind the wheel,” Watson said. “Law enforcement won’t be able to ensure that every teen is following the rules outlined by this new law, and that’s why we are counting on the parents to help make sure their teens are safe, whether they are drivers or passengers. Many parents have told me over the years that they want to look to the law to set the rules of the road for their teens, and this legislation seeks to make that happen.”
Watson has been a leader in transportation safety, and she currently serves as chairman of the House Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Highway Safety. She was also the creator and first director of the Bucks County Highway Safety program.
The new law takes effect in 60 days.
Rep. Kathy Watson joined Gov. Tom Corbett and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) as House Bill 9 was signed today at Harrisburg High School. The new law makes necessary updates to the state’s teen driving law.
This is the body copy