NEVADA FOCUS: Teen driver restrictions on the way in Nevada

While spending the summer with his grandparents, he took driver's education classes at Carson High School. He'll be able to get his license later this month and head out on the highway in a 1977 Toyota Celica.

''I have my car ready,'' said Bakke, a Centennial High School student. ''I am going to take my friends to the skate parks. There are also tons of dirt roads in Clark County.''

Bakke will face no driving restrictions - except those imposed by his parents - when he goes solo behind the wheel.

It will be a different story for other drivers starting Oct. 1 as Nevada becomes the 46th state with a graduated driver licensing law for teenagers.

Assemblywoman Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, and the Automobile Association of America say Nevada's law is the least restrictive of its kind in the nation. Most other states prohibit teens from driving at night and make teens wait longer periods of time before carrying passengers. But Cegavske, the bill's sponsor, expects it will save lives.

''Highway accidents are the No. 1 killer of teens in our state,'' she said. ''We aren't saying teens are bad. It is just their lack of experience behind the wheel.''

Now, 16-year-olds can get licenses with no restrictions.

Under the new law, unless they had a learner's permit at 15 that allowed them to drive with their parents, 16-year-olds won't immediately be eligible for a full license. They first must get learner's permits and drive at least two months only with their parents. Parents then must swear that they have observed their teens drive for a minimum of 50 hours before they can apply for a full license.

Once they have regular licenses, 16-year-olds still cannot drive with other passengers - except for members of their families - for two months.

Cegavske said teens who are learning to drive don't need the added distraction of teen passengers.

''Giving someone inexperienced a motor vehicle that weighs tons is like putting a pilot in an airplane with a month's training,'' she said.

The automobile association has found teens make up 7 percent of the driving population but are involved in 15 percent of fatal crashes and 18 percent of all crashes. Sixteen-year-olds have the highest crash rate, more than three times that of 18-year-olds and five times that of 20-year-olds.

Bakke predicts even the two-month restriction on carrying other passengers will be ignored by teens.

''If you have a car and your friend wants to go to McDonald's, you aren't going to say, 'I'm sorry I can't go for another month because the law won't allow it.' ''

Cegavske realizes some teens will ignore the driving restrictions. Police won't be able to stop them simply on the suspicion they look too young. Police only can cite a driver for not following the graduated licensing law if the driver is stopped for another driving offense.

Liz Vermette, an executive in the automobile association's national government relations department, said her company has made a push to lobby for graduated driving laws in every state. Only eight states had such laws in 1997. Now just Montana, Wyoming, Alabama and Hawaii haven't passed them.

Graduated driving license laws show some positive results. Michigan reported a 27 percent decline in accidents involving 16-year-old drivers last year, while Kentucky's reduction was 30 percent. North Carolina reported a 29 percent decrease in fatalities and a 26 percent decrease in crashes involving 16-year-olds.

Cegavske struggled for three legislative sessions to pass a graduated licensing law. Twice she failed by the narrowest of margins. After many compromises, Cegavske finally won approval of her bill during the June 14 special legislative session.

Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, insisted on provisions that will allow teens to secure a license when they turn 15 years and nine months - three months earlier than before.

If teens complete driver's training at 15 1/2, then they can get a learner's permit. Under Perkins' provision, they must drive with their parents for three months on that permit and get 50 hours of driving experience. Then, they can get a regular driver's license. These teens, however, couldn't drive with anyone other than members of their family until they turn 16.

''There is an unwritten rule when a kid turns 16, he or she should get a license,'' Perkins said. ''They are more active in school and their parents cannot get them to a lot of events. Barbara's argument was they need extra training and this allows us to strike a balance. They get the extra driving and it doesn't impact them at 16.

''The one thing in common is all kids want a license as soon as they can,'' added Perkins, a deputy chief at the Henderson Police Department who gives speeches to school groups. ''They want to get licenses at younger ages.''


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