Ark. House Rejects Driving Restrictions for Teen Drivers

March 28, 2007

New driving restrictions for younger teenagers – including a ban on late-night driving and limits on passengers – were overwhelmingly rejected March 26 by the Arkansas House of Representatives.

“Leave these kids alone,” Rep. Billy Gaskill, D-Paragould, told his colleagues before members of the chamber voted 27-63 against a bill that had already been approved by the Senate.

The measure would have barred young drivers from the roads between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., except for work, school or an emergency. It would also have outlawed a young driver’s use of a cell phone, and limited passengers to one, not counting family members.

The teens could be on the road later and have more passengers if accompanied by someone 21 or older who had a driver’s license. The passenger ban also wouldn’t stop a teen from driving with more than one sibling in the car.

The proposal faced opposition from lawmakers who questioned why the state should set such restrictions, rather than municipalities or families.

Rep. Michael Patterson, D-Piggott, said the bill would just put more teens in more cars on the roads and questioned why towns can’t address the issue through local curfews.

“There’s a lot of kids who need to carpool to schools and they need to carpool to church,” said Patterson “You’re just going to put more cars on the roads.”

Supporters of the proposal said the new restrictions are needed to help curb the number of highway fatalities.

“Arkansas is one of the leading states in the country in terms of traumatic accidents and traumatic deaths,” said Rep. Gene Shelby, D-Hot Springs, a doctor. “This bill will put a dent in that and put us in the right direction.”

Gaskill, however, was more skeptical of the fatality figures.

“They said there were more 16- and 18-year old kids getting killed than there are among the 75- and 80-year olds. Well, duh, there’s more of them,” Gaskill said.

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