From the Arkansas Statehouse...

Despite skepticism, Senate committee approves graduated drivers licenses.

In Public Health, Transportation on 16 February 2009 at 12:56 pm

If it’s Monday, it’s transportation day at the legislature. Besides the Joint Retirement Committee, the Senate Transportation and Technology Committee is the only committee to regularly meet on Mondays. The group has contended with some surprisingly controversial questions, most notably a ban on texting and a requirement that drivers use only hands-free cell phones. Today was not an exception, as the committee only approved a graduated drivers license measure after 45 minutes of discussion.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Jeffress, adds restrictions to drivers who are between 16 and 18 years of age. With exceptions for travel from school, work and church activities, those drivers would not be allowed on the road without adult supervision between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. They would also be banned from transporting more than one person under 21 who is not a member of their household.

The bill’s prospects didn’t look good early in the debate, as Sen. Larry Teague asked a barrage of questions. How will the new regulations affect the social lives of teens in small towns such as Nashville and Crossett? Will it cause undue hardship for kids who carpool to school?

Sen. Paul Bookout said he was worried that young hunters would be unable to go out early enough. Concerns were also expressed about the bill’s lack of enforcement provisions. It leaves it up to the Department of Finance and Administration to develop penalties.

However, a slew of testimony followed that appealed to the public health benefit of placing restrictions on teen drivers. Multiple speakers asked the committee to approve a bill that would save lives. That was enough to ensure its passage.

Sen. Teague absented himself for the voice vote. Sen Denny Altes, who is listed as a bill co-sponsor, didn’t register a vote either way.

The committee’s approval puts Arkansas on its way to implementing the tougher teen-driving standards prevalent across the nation. According to testimony given today, 45 states have a curfew for teen drivers, while 39 place restrictions on the number of passengers.

Sen. Jeffress said afterwards that he thought the opposition was “just posturing.” But resistance may be stiffer in the House, where a similar measure received just 27 votes last session. Sen. Jeffress said he thinks he has made the bill more palatable by adding exceptions.

Also in the Transportation Committee today, members approved bills to make it a primary offense not to wear a seatbelt and to prevent lawyers and chiropracters from accessing accident reports.

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  1. […] A bill to provide for "graduated" driver’s licenses cleared a Senate committee today, but it’s clear that rural legislators don’t like the idea of making it harder for young drivers to get full driving privileges. John Williams has a report here. […]

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