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New laws to hit teen drivers

BRISTOL, Connecticut, U.S.A. — Several bills restricting teen drivers are now working their way through the state legislature, creating controversy among students, teachers and politicians.

Aimed at preventing teen driving fatalities, the bills propose 30 hours of supervised permit driving, a mandatory drug test before licensing and a limit on the number of passengers teens may carry.

“I don’t think it’s really infringing on your rights,” said John Girard, a science teacher and driving instructor at Bristol Eastern High School.

Girard said he’s strongly in favor of what’s being called “graduated licensing” in Connecticut.

While teenagers make up only 7 percent of all drivers, they are involved in 21 percent of all fatal crashes. Girard said that the new measures could go a long way toward bringing such numbers down.

Girard suggested those who would oppose the drug and alcohol testing are perhaps users, and said he supports limiting the number of passengers that newly licensed teens can take with them. He suggests only two: the new driver’s parents.

Such limiting, Girard said, prevents “the daredevil thing; ‘c’mon, let’s see who could go faster.'”

State Sen. Tom Colapietro disagrees with both drug testing and the limiting of passengers.

“I don’t think they should do that to anybody,” the Terryville Democrat said of mandatory drug testing. “It’s like assuming you’re guilty before you’re proven guilty.”

“If you’re not fit to drive a car with one passenger, you’re not fit to drive with 10,” said Colapietro. “If you can drive safely with one passenger, you can drive with 10.”

“I think it’s good,” said Bristol resident Traci Stephenson. “I know three people in the last three months who’ve gotten into car accidents involving drinking and driving, drugs and marijuana. They were fairly young, 23 to 24.”

Stephenson said loud music, talking, laughing and cell phone abuse causes them to be unfocused behind the wheel.

“Four people if you’re going to the beach” is fine, she said.

“[The] kids have to have a little give and take with it, also,” said Girard. If not, he explained, teens could be looking at something more stringent.

Girard pointed out most accidents happen within the students’ first month of licensed driving. He also recommended guardians accompany newly licensed drivers for the first month or two.

Students, for their part, are divided over the measures. While many feel the restrictions could save lives, some are skeptical.

Melissa Houle, a sophomore at Eastern, said having a lot of passengers can be distracting. “I have been in a car with too many people. I realized that it is dangerous, and this may make it safer,” Houle said.

Vickie Rackliffe, another Eastern sophomore, disagreed.

“People shouldn’t be limited as long as everyone has a seat belt,” she said. “If the car has room for five people and they all have seat belts on, it’s fine.”

Others agreed with the drug test bill.

Kristin Cretella, another Eastern sophomore, said a drug test will show if the person is responsible enough to be driving. “If they were smoking [pot] before, they’re likely to do it after,” she said.

Rackliffe agreed, saying that it was “fine, because I don’t do drugs and that won’t affect me. If I was under the influence of drugs I shouldn’t be driving anyway.”

“If you’re going to be driving you shouldn’t be using drugs or drinking,” said Camille James, an Eastern senior who just completed driver’s ed. “You should be more responsible.”

Although the proposed bill would require all new drivers to take drug tests, the vast majority of new drivers are teenagers.

“When you go through driver’s ed and get your license, you’ve proved you’re pretty responsible,” said James. “The stereotypical view of teens is that they’re wild, but I think it depends on the person.”

Reporting on this story were Youth Journalism International reporters Mike Nguyen, Katie Jordan, Sarah Jordan, Natalie Minor, Jen Rajotte, Chantelle Garzone, Hila Yosafi and Joe Wilbur.

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