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May 11, 2005

Blair's impact on Maryland's new teen driving laws

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
On the final day of the 2005 Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis, the state Congress passed four of the five bills proposed to curb the recent rash of teen driving deaths in the region. The four that were passed on April 11, 2005 and an earlier bill that passed in March, made it through the stack of over 2,500 proposed bills and were sent to the Governor due in large part to advocacy by a Blair alum and three current Blazers.

Three of the five teen driving bills that passed the Maryland legislature were drafted and created by Delegate William Bronrott (D-Bethesda), a 1973 graduate of Blair. Three of the teenagers to testify at the State House in favor of the bills were Blazer sophomores Isaac Arnsdorf, Avi Edelman and Adam Yalowitz, whom Bronrott credited with giving him "a lot of support" in the quest to pass these laws.

Del. Bronrott and co-author of one bill, Del. Adrienne A. Mandel (D-Silver Spring), helped to spearhead the effort to pass teen driving restrictions in the state. Since 1999, Dels. Bronrott and Mandel had been pushing a bill designed to stop teen drivers from carrying any non-family passengers during the first five months they have their provisional license.

For years, their bill had been lost in the shuffle of the thousands of proposed laws that come up every year in Annapolis. The passenger restriction law took over half a decade to pass House and Senate votes, something that did not surprise Bronrott. "Because we have 2,500 bills a session, not everything that deserves to rise does," he explained. In previous years, their bill didn't get enough votes to pass.

Bronrott said that in 1998, when Maryland passed the Graduated Drivers License bill, which implemented a provisional period for drivers, "it was a huge victory for Maryland road safety, and the feeling was that the state had done enough. Delegate Mandel and I backed more, but the feeling that we found was that convenience was more important than safety."

But their push gained new life because of a spike in teen driving deaths that the bill hopes to curb. Twenty-one teens have died in the last year on Washington-area roads, many of them in Montgomery County.

Del. Bronrott's bills also included a ban on teen cell phone use while driving, and a law that increased the required practice driving time during the permit period from 40 to 60 hours. Those last two bills passed in less than two years, very rare for the state legislature, Bronrott said. "It's very unusual for a bill to pass its first or second year," he said. "It typically takes around six years to pass a bill."

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (R) proposed the two other laws that passed. One mandated that the 18-month provisional license period would restart if a driver was caught violating the midnight to 5 a.m. curfew on driving. The other extends the learners permit period from four months to six. All five laws will go into effect Oct. 1, 2005, pending Gov. Ehrlich's signature. Bronrott expected the signatures to be a formality. "From everything I've ascertained, [Gov. Ehrlich] will pass them in May," he said.

When asked if the spike of fatalities this past fall in the metro area helped speed up the legislation, Bronrott said "no doubt" it had an effect. "There was an needless number of teen drivers and passengers that didn't have adequate preparation to drive on the road," which led to the fatalities, he said. "The pressure reached critical mass this year."

When Bronrott opened the session on Jan. 25, Bronrott said he wanted dearly to pass this legislation to help teens on the road. "At the start of the 2005 legislative session," he said, "our goal by the end of the year was to declare it the 'Year of the Teen Driver.' We're grateful we had the banner year we had."

The delegate gave major credit to three Blazers who he said sent a "strong message" to doubters of the laws. Arnsdorf, Edelman and Yalowitz all testified on Feb. 9 in front of the House Environmental Matters Committee in Annapolis that they and their peers needed tougher driving laws.

Arnsdorf and Edelman explained that they got involved with Bronrott thanks to the CAP Change Project at school designed to encourage kids to express their voice and desire for altering governmental policies they disagree with.

Edelman said that, "The project was to get us to try and change things we disagree with by contacting policy makers that are working on it. Our biggest issue was with the cell phone law," that allowed teens talk on their cell phone while driving. He added that the three "hooked up with Delegate Bronrott when we found out he was already working" on teen driving legislation.

When the Blazers arrived at the State House in Annapolis that February morning, Arnsdorf said they were met by around "five to ten" other teens that were there to testify as well. "There were definitely a few teens there, and that made a difference," Arnsdorf said, adding, "I think [the teen testimony] made a big impact. The belief was that teens didn't want these bills, and we helped" diffuse that notion.

Edelman agreed with Arnsdorf and said that he's hopeful the laws are effective. "All the [bills] we were there to support got passed and I'm hopeful they'll work."

Bronrott echoed Arnsdorf's sentiments and said that the three were instrumental in helping diffuse the notion that teens were against these laws. "They helped diffuse the notion that teen drivers would be against the bills," he said. "When they showed up it sent a strong message that kids wanted safe highways, too. The hearing put the bills at the forefront of the legislature," he said.

"If I was 16," Bronrott added, "I wouldn't want adults telling me what to do." The support from teens, he said, was "a pleasant surprise." He said he was "shocked" by all the teens who testified on Feb. 9 in favor of the law.

The committee that had killed the bills previously was convinced, the bills got through and Bronrott gave credit to all involved. "We achieved it with the support we got from both parties," he asserted, attributing more credit to the Democratic controlled House and Senate. "Credit where credit's due; the Democratic leadership made sure the bills passed. If the leadership of [House Speaker] Del. Michael Busch (D-Odenton) and [HEM Committee chairwoman] Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore) didn't embrace the bills, they'd be gone."

When the bills went through, they were a win for the Republican governor just a year away from what will likely be a brutal re-election campaign. But Bronrott asserted that this was a time that safety transcended political bickering. "I tried to portray [the bills] by saying that 'dying on our highways is not partisan politics.'"

The long road for the laws met on votes in March and April. The passenger restriction bill in the senate drafted by Sen. Kevin P. Dyson (D-St. Mary's) passed by a clear 17-3 margin on March 14. Bronrott and Mandel's bill passed 105-30, and were eventually merged and sent through the Senate again with a wide majority. "We crossed party lines and geographic lines in ways we hadn't before" to pass these laws, he said.

The other four bills passed the legislature on April 11, the last day of the session. They are now currently awaiting Gov. Ehrlich's ratification.

The laws, Bronrott said, were "part of a growing drumbeat that [members of the administration] were supporters of us." Ehrlich's bills "showed that all parties were on board and it was nice support because we can't get the laws on the books without the governor's signature."

Back at Blair, Edelman said that most of his friends were warming up to the laws, as well. "Their first reaction is not positive, but when we explain that their small inconveniences really do make a big difference, they really open up to the idea."

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  • Sebastian Johnson's biographer on May 11, 2005 at 1:57 PM
    I believe Sebi worked with Delegate Bronrott on teen driving as well. Nice journalism, Chips.
  • Senior on May 11, 2005 at 4:58 PM
    yay 10th grade CAP community service project!
  • Jay Asbell (View Email) on May 11, 2005 at 5:33 PM
    Under the MCR state Lobbying Committee those teen driving bills were assigned to me; i helped see that they didnt pass. Whats with the story on the kid who gets laws passed that restricts our rights as teens further?
  • Jay Asbell (View Email) on May 11, 2005 at 5:37 PM
    Sorry, i ment to say that last year they were assigned to me and didnt get passed. Still, its not the fact that teen drivers are more likely to get into accidents; any new driver has the same increased risk. All teens are new drivers but not all new drivers are teens, but the accidents that teens get into are associated with their age rather then expearence behind the wheel. This law will not make our streets safer, just put off the accidents new drivers get into.
  • anon on May 11, 2005 at 5:54 PM
  • carebear on May 11, 2005 at 7:39 PM
    Hey Jay, maturity has something to do with it too. Yes, inexperience is the major factor, but the extra hours and extra waiting time to get the license are assigned to all new drivers, not just teenagers.
  • Jay Asbell (View Email) on May 11, 2005 at 8:24 PM
    I recognise that, but what im saying is that extra time and extra hours are not productive as studies show people rarly complete those hours anyway. When i went to the DMV the lady didnt even look at my log she just checked to see it was signed. We should be enforcing current laws and reforming the current system rather then just adding more time and red tape. Plus, when your older and living alone it is MUCH MUCH harder to find an adult who had a licience for five years and is willing to sit in the passenger seat and give you 40 hours of supervision, not to mention 60. This is only going to extend the time these adults, mostly new residents and immigrants, spend driving illegally at a liability to the taxpayer.
  • Check the ISP on May 11, 2005 at 8:38 PM
    The immigrants the immigrants! Oh wont somebody please think of the immigrants!?!?!
  • Isaac Arnsdorf on May 11, 2005 at 9:44 PM
    Teen drivers are much more likely to get in an accident than older new drivers. The Institute for Highway Safety says that teenagers are four times as likely as older drivers to be involved in a crash, and the Washington Post published a study showing that brain immaturity in teens increases driving dangers ( Car crashes are the number one cause of death between ages 15 and 20, according American Automobile Association, and 75 percent of fatal crashes with teen drivers due to the driver's error or behavior.

    While these bills might seem restrictive at first, they target specific factors proven to contribute to accidents involving teen drivers. For example, one of the bills restricts teen passengers for the first six months, since an NI 687-2005Jan31.html). Car crashes are the number one cause of death between ages 15 and 20, according American Automobile Association, and 75 percent of fatal crashes with teen drivers due to the driver's error or behavior.

    While these bills might seem restrictive at first, they target specific factors proven to contribute to accidents involving teen drivers. For example, one of the bills restricts teen passengers for the first six months, since an NIH study indicated the danger of a 16- or 17-year-old driver getting in an accident doubles with two teen passengers and quadrupled with three or more. Also, talking on a cell phone quadruples the risk of getting in an accident.

    These minor and temporary restrictions are nothing compare to the importance of safe driving. Our roads have to be safe for us.
  • Isaac Arnsdorf on May 11, 2005 at 9:52 PM
    I would also like to mention that on the day we testified before the committee in Annapolis, we were joined by a BCC student who lost her friend in one of the 17 fatal teen driving accidents so far this year. Also present were several parents of lost teens, including one high school principle who lost both a student and a son. It would be impossible and improper for me to attempt to replicate their stirring testimony, but we owe it to them and the memory of their loved ones to do all we can to ensure that such tragic losses are not repeated.
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on May 11, 2005 at 9:58 PM
    Actually, Jay, I can understand what youre saying, but immigrants and out of state residents, especially the latter, have probably driven before. all you need is one license in the united states. if you get a license for the first time, i believe, at bare minimum, the old laws apply, and the new ones may as well.

  • Jay Asbell (View Email) on May 11, 2005 at 10:46 PM
    I have the upmost sympathy for the friends and family of those lost in accidents, but it is unfair to play a pity card and cut and paste rhetoric. I already said that those claims are misleading because to say "teenagers are four times as likely as older drivers to be involved in a crash" is not reflective of age but rather expearence. If you look at the maryland accident rates for new teen drivers and accident rates for new drivers over the age of 21 you will see little difference in the numbers. Also, that post article cites 25 as being the age that the brain fully develops, so by that study it would appear that if we really wanted safer roads we would make that the age one was able to obtain a licience.

    Its all about risk vs benifit, at the age of 16 teens are mature enough to drive but are still able to be supervised by their parents, learning to drive is a part of growing up and should not be taken away due to the immature and irresponsible actions of a few. Children are over ten times as likely to drown in a swimming pool then an adult, but legal restrictions for the age of pool use that would save thousands of
    lives every year are not put in place because the benifit does not outweigh the cost.
  • Jay Asbell (View Email) on May 11, 2005 at 10:52 PM
    How many of those teen driving accidents contained a situation where that driver was breaking a law, be it speeding, or drinking and driving or otherwise?

    I know some of those accidents were unavoidable, but those that wern't were not caused by the person being a teen, it was caused by the person being stupid. Anyone who drinks and gets behind the wheel of a car is stupid. Anyone who drag races on an unlit back country road is stupid. We need to make a law that prohibits stupid people from being able to drive, not teens.
  • Jay Asbell (View Email) on May 11, 2005 at 11:10 PM
    Also in the article you cited:

    "Critics of brain-imaging research -- and Giedd himself [a pediatric psychiatrist leading the study]-- emphasize that there is no proven correlation between brain changes and behavior. Giedd, however, said the duration and depth of the study mean "it's time to bring neuroscience to the table" in the teen driving debate."

    So uh, the article that your argument is based on proves absolutly nothing and is just a vauge 'well i guess immaturity COULD explain bad driving' attempt at public hype.
  • John McManigle on May 12, 2005 at 12:38 AM
    "Also, that post article cites 25 as being the age that the brain fully develops"

    With the disclaimer that I'm not read up on developmental neuroscience, everything I've heard about this sort of thing is that "instinctive" actons like driving and language are best learned before the brain is fully developed, when the brain has time to adapt and "change it circuitry" to become adept in the skill.
  • Andrew Tourtellot '04 on May 12, 2005 at 6:46 AM
    Thank you Jay, I agree. I'm in college now and I still don't have a license, and increasing the required hours and provisional license period is just going to be more trouble for my parents when I do get my license. As mentioned, most people fake those hours anyway with just 40 hours to do; they will become a complete sham at 60. It's personal responsibility, not age and meaningless quotas that determine whether a person is able to drive. If you don't want your children dying on the roads, don't let them drive if they're not ready for it. Too many parents rush their kids to get licenses to make their own lives more convenient and then freak out when kids start crashing.
  • peter on May 12, 2005 at 12:00 PM
    now people will crash by themselves when they drive drunk because they cant get a ride, instead of being safe in a car
  • sp4nk on May 12, 2005 at 3:02 PM
    It is mentioned in the article that one of the new bills will restrict teen drivers from using cellphones when driving. Does this specifically apply to drivers under the age of 20, or to all provisional license holders?
  • Michelle (View Email) on June 5, 2005 at 8:03 PM
    Are you kidding me? Now people will drive home drunk, still get in accidents; but at 17 instead of 16. But what you need to realize is that there will always be accidents. Its really hard on people who live in families with more than one or two siblings to find a ride places. It is already impossible and will now only be more stressful on families. i understand the law on more experience but dont make a process thats stressful only harder and more expensive. Once again, Way to go Maryland Goverment! :(!!!
  • Keith (View Email) on June 8, 2005 at 12:35 AM
    I agree that there are some bad drivers out there, of all ages. I think new laws would help, but it would be more sensible to go into effect for all people with birthdays after 1990, because some1990 teens are recieving their permits this year and would recieve their provisional license in February or March. This leaves them in an inconvienent situation. I planned on being a very focused learner of the driving world and I would not be irresponsible as it is not in my nature. The teen deaths that have occurred have served as enough of a wake up call to teen drivers to be safe. The rate will go down simply because teens don't want to experience what the others did. The 91 and beyond children will not recieve permits this year, so the law could smoothly go into effect with them, but for us earl 90's teens, it serves as a dilemna. Please consider this. Thank you very much for your time.
  • Jane (View Email) on June 12, 2005 at 6:13 PM
    I think it's a bit harsh. It is not fair to punish future generations for the mistakes that people are doing right now. If it has to go into effect then I agree with Kieth that said it should wait until people born in 1991. It is the only fair thing to do. By the way, your article makes all teenagers seem stupid. You should know that it's really only a few, nd not everyone should be punished
  • Pressy (View Email) on June 14, 2005 at 4:26 PM
    OK well... I think that those idiot teen drivers are the ones punishing the ones that actually obey the law. If the Government think these laws will help us they got another thing coming. These laws are just outraging to teens and just pisses teens off. I say if you can get a job and have to pay bills you should be able to go out at night whenever you want. So much for a democracy.
  • Emma (View Email) on August 3, 2005 at 10:53 PM
    i think these laws should only effect people born after a certain year because some of the older people that have yet to get their licenses dont wanna have to go through the same process as the younger teens who need more 16 and im study law to be a lawyer and hoping to have an effect on politics in the future take this into consideration when deciding whether some teens or all teens ahould be punished for what some have done i feel you should make every new driver take an extended driving class and only those few teens who screw up should be punished with the extended permit and certain passenger law or else get more cops out there to catch the people in the act because of course you know that barely any of the teens will listen. make it harder for the teens to get their learners then punishing them when they do. thank you!
  • Jessica (View Email) on August 16, 2005 at 12:43 AM
    i think that all these laws are not really helping they are just making an already complicated thing even more complicated. in Texas they allow parents to teach there kids drivers ed for only $45. drivers ed is soo expensive at 200-350 dollars what we need is the governement to make drivers ed cheaper and to develope better programs for teaching us not making it harder to get a lisease
  • ryan (View Email) on September 29, 2005 at 5:23 PM
    Hi, i do agree it might make it safer to pass this law but in a way it is taking away their rights and that is wrong!
  • McKenzie (View Email) on June 4, 2006 at 4:56 PM
    Ok. Well just a note to all the teenagers below who want to be taken seriously, maybe you should try spelling everything correctly and actually capitalizing your I's. It's so hard, I know.
  • Caitlin (View Email) on January 28, 2007 at 9:26 PM
    My name is Caitlin and i'm doind a socail studies project on teen driving any information would be a big help just send it to the address above thank you
    ~Caitlin k,
  • katie (View Email) on November 28, 2007 at 11:33 AM
    Im doing a report on team driving and i was wondering more about it? Should it be aloud at 14 or not? Are students at that age responsible enough or not?
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