Corbett signs Pa. bill restricting teen drivers

October 25, 2011 7:20:01 PM PDT
Tougher rules for teenage drivers were signed into law in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, while state lawmakers amended a bill to ban texting by all drivers and give police the power to pull people over for it.

The teen driving bill, enacted by Gov. Tom Corbett at a high school ceremony, limits how many passengers they can carry and increases the number of hours of behind-the-wheel experienced required for a junior license.

Corbett told students at Harrisburg High School that he hopes the measure will save lives. A recent state study showed fatal crashes involving 16- or 17-year-old drivers increased from 40 in 2009 to 57 last year.

"You think we're picking on you? We are, we really are," Corbett said. "We singled you out because we want you here a long time from now."

For six months, teens without a parent in the vehicle will not be allowed to have more than one friend or similar person under 18, who is not a member of their household, as a passenger. If they haven't caused an accident after six months, the teen driver could carry three such passengers.

The new law makes failure to wear proper restraints a primary offense, so police can stop drivers under age 18 if they or their passengers are not wearing seatbelts, booster seats or similar equipment. Violations carry a $75 fine.

Corbett said questions about how police officers will know the age of drivers on sight is something to worry about down the road. "It will all get litigated," he said.

Teens with learner's permits would need 65 hours of driving experience to get a junior license, up from 50 hours. Teens can get a junior license starting at age 16. There is also a new requirement of five hours of bad-weather driving and 10 hours of night driving.

Inside the state Capitol, the House amended a ban on texting-while-driving to make it a primary offense, so police can pull people over for suspected violations. All Democrats and about a third of Republicans voted for it.

"We've seen over the years a proliferation of these electronic devices, and a proliferation of people using them when they should be doing something else," said Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Allegheny. "And particularly, they should be paying attention where they're going with a 4,000-pound weapon, which is an automobile."

A separate amendment, which would have outlawed the use of hand-held cellphones while driving, was defeated by majority Republicans on a nearly party-line vote.

Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said GOP leaders planned to call up a cellphone use bill on its own.

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