Laws put teen drivers on a short rope | AspenTimes.com

Laws put teen drivers on a short rope

Naomi Havlen

The days of teenagers calling up their friends for a celebratory joy ride after receiving their driver’s license are over in Colorado.Several laws went into effect Friday that restrict the number of young people allowed in a vehicle driven by a novice driver. The new laws are all about cutting down on distractions, said Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson. According to Ryerson, police will not necessarily pull over cars filled with teenagers to see if they’re breaking the law. But once a car is pulled over for another offense, like speeding, officers will check the age of those in the car and the driving experience of the person behind the wheel, he said.”I think having kids learning how to drive is a scary and a big step in their lives,” he said, adding that he hopes parents will be on the front lines of setting driving rules for their teenagers.The new laws affect drivers under 18 years old by restricting the number of teenage passengers they can have in their vehicle. Specifically, a driver under 18 who has had a license for less than six months cannot have any passengers under the age of 21, unless they are transporting a sibling or because of a medical emergency.Drivers under 18 years old who have had their license more than six months but less than one year can have only one passenger in the car under the age of 21, again excepting siblings and medical emergencies.Also, as of July 1, teens under 18 who have had their license less than a year are not allowed to drive between midnight and 5 a.m. Exceptions include when the driver is accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, driving to or from work with a signed statement from an employer, during a medical emergency, or driving to or from school or a school-authorized activity when the school does not provide transportation.Beginning Aug. 10, teens under 18 with a learner’s permit will not be allowed to use a cellphone while driving.Snowmass Village resident Nancy Ferguson, mother of 16-year-old Sam, believes the new laws are great.”Sam has been driving for five months, so for the next month he can’t have any passengers under 21 in his car,” she said. “I think it’s a good idea – he needs to concentrate on driving at this age, without any distractions. The laws make a parent’s job easier.”Ferguson also has written out a contract with her son outlining what is allowed while driving, what is not allowed, and what the consequences are for breaking the contract. For example, Sam cannot yet drive beyond Glenwood Springs.Aspen resident Beth Odén’s teenage son is also relatively new to driving. Odén said her son Zackary got his license last October; he turned 18 in May.”I like to think that parents should have the ultimate say on it, but I know that’s not reality,” she said. “A lot of parents out there are not in touch with their kids and what they’re doing. For those kinds of situation, these rules are really great.”Odén set guidelines on how many people Zackary could have in his car before hearing about the new laws. She said her parents probably had a similar rule in place when she was learning to drive, 20-plus year ago.These are good examples of parents making wise choices and taking the situation of their child driving seriously, Ryerson said.”Driving is a huge exposure,” he said, “And studies show that kids take more risks. My hope is that we never have to enforce this.””The law doesn’t necessarily save lives, it’s the choices you make that save lives,” added Assistant Police Chief Richard Pryor.According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, teen drivers represent nearly 7 percent of licensed drivers in Colorado. In addition, 16-year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age, and are three times more likely to die in motor vehicle crashes than other drivers.In 2004, 96 people ages 16 to 20 died on Colorado roadways, and of these, 44 were 16 or 17 years old.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com