State Rep. Kathy Watson of Bucks County says the bill she introduced this week would help to save the lives of young drivers. Her bill carries three main changes to the state’s driving laws. The first would extend the number of behind-the-wheel hours a permit holder needs before moving on to a driver’s licenses, from the current 50 hours to 65 hours. Watson says ten of the additional hours would have to be logged at night and the other five during “inclement weather.” “We have found in reviewing crashes for this age group, these are factors that occur, that often young people are not prepared to handle,” says Watson. She says she hopes parents will abide by the rules and not just sign off on the specialized hours. “If your child is really good at sports you get them out there to practice soccer or baseball, or if you’ve got the concert pianist in the family, or whatever it is, you work with them because you get better with practice,” says Watson, “this is the same thing and this has really deadly consequences if they don’t get that experience.”
The bill would also force anyone from birth to age 18 to wear a seatbelt while seated anywhere in the car and it would make that law a primary offense, which means a police officer could pull over a car based solely on that violation. Watson says more than 50-percent of all automobile accident fatalities among 16 to 18 year olds can be traced back to not wearing seatbelts.
Finally, the bill calls for the number of teens that can be in the car with a young driver to be limited to just one. “They can not text or they can put the cell phone away but they can’t tune out the others who are in the car with them talking, laughing, asking questions,” says Watson, “that is very difficult for a new driver to deal with and process all that is going on on the road around them.” Exceptions would be made for family members.
Watson says she will work hard to make sure the bill is not bogged down with amendments. She says while, issues such as texting while driving and the use of hand held cell phones are important, they should not be added to this bill. She says those items are better handled in stand-alone bills that impact all drivers, not just teens.