ISHPEMING - Most teenagers have the ability to drive at the top of the list of perks of growing up, but recent changes to Michigan's graduated license requirements have limited the driving activities of those under the age of 17.
The changes came into effect in early March, and although they may not be welcomed by the teen drivers themselves, they could decrease the number of accidents involving teens.
According to the Michigan Secretary of State website, the state's graduated license program has three stages:
Matthew Bozzo, 16, stands next to his parents’ vehicle in Riverview, Mich., on March 25. New laws aim to strengthen Michigan's existing graduated driver’s license program, first introduced in 1996. The program gradually increases privileges as drivers advance through the system and ends when they turn 18. Drivers with the intermediate licenses won’t be allowed to have more than one unrelated passenger under age 21 unless accompanied by a parent or guardian or they are driving to and from school events. The law also prohibits the new teen drivers from getting behind the wheel between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless they are driving to and from work. (AP photo)
Level 1 learner's license, which teens can apply for and begin taking drivers' education classes at the age of 14 years, 9 months.
Level 2 intermediate license, which teens can get at the age of 16 after having their level 1 license for six months and having completed Segment 2 of drivers' education.
Level 3 full license, when they reach the age of 17, have had their level 2 license for six months and have passed a driving skills test.
New changes to Michigan's laws for teenage drivers state that teens with a level 2 intermediate license cannot have more than one unrelated passenger under 21 years old in their vehicle unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian. The law does make an exception for teens driving to or from school-related events.
In addition, teens are not allowed to drive between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless driving to or from work. Previously teens had been allowed to drive until midnight.
"They'd been given a sense of freedom to a certain extent," said Ishpeming Public Schools drivers' ed instructor Erl Langness, of driving privileges prior to the change. "It's something they're having to live with right now."
Even though the new restrictions might not be popular with teen drivers themselves, Langness said he felt limiting the number of younger passengers and not letting teens drive as late into the night would help decrease the number of accidents involving teens.
"Statistically, the first year of their license is the most dangerous," he said. "A lot of times their minds are on other things."
Michigan first implemented its graduated driver's license program, which increases driving privileges as teens advance through the system, in 1996.
Rep. Richard LeBlanc, D-Westland, said late last year as the bill was passed that it could help "save lives and minimize distractions."
That claim is backed up by a study published in 2007 by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, which showed greater restrictions were necessary to curb teen drivers' involvement in crashes.
Researchers found that teens have a higher risk for all types of crashes and are two-and-a-half times as likely as adults to be in a crash. The risk of a crash increases when teens have other passengers in the car, including teens, and when they drive at night or on weekends.
"The percentage of accidents go up exponentially with more people in the car," Langness said.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.