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Governor Corbett Encouraged to Sign Junior Drivers Bill

By Ali Carey, Contributing Writer

From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

This week the PA House and Senate approved legislation that would institute stricter driving standards on Pennsylvania’s junior drivers and leaner’s permit holders.  The bill is currently awaiting Governor Tom Corbett’s signature.

Currently junior drivers, ages 16-and-a-half to 18 must complete 50 hours of behind-the-wheel training.  House Bill 9, which was sponsored by state Rep. Kathy Watson (R- Bucks County) would increase junior driver’s behind-the-wheel training to 65 hours.  The bill would require that ten of those driving hours be at night, and at least five hours during inclement weather.

The bill would also limit licensed junior drivers to only one teen passenger, with exceptions for family members.  The Senate changed the bill’s original provision to apply only to the first six months after issuance of a junior’s license.  If a junior driver is accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, up to 3 passengers under the age of 18 who are not immediate family members of the junior driver are allowed in the car.

Presently police can stop a vehicle driven by a junior driver if the driver or passengers under 18 in the vehicle are not wearing a seat belt.  If passed, the bill would make the failure to wear a seatbelt by drivers and passengers under age 18 a primary offense.

In an interview with the AP on Thursday, Rep. Watson demonstrated her strong motivation to enact this legislation that she adamantly believes would reduce teen fatalities.

Law makers aren’t the only ones pressuring the governor to sign this legislation. Carl Hessler Jr. of the The Times Leader spoke with parents of children in crashes and officials of a leading motoring organization that are urging Governor Corbett to sign the law as soon as possible.

Karen Cantamaglia, whose son, Michael, 16, of Barto, was killed in a a Nov. 23, 2009 crash along with his friend, Andrew Case, 17, of Lower Pottsgrove told Hessler Jr.:

“Anyone with any doubt about the magnitude of this bill and its importance to the lives of our children only has to talk to Michael’s and Andrew’s friends who had to face the mortality of burying their friends over their Thanksgiving break 2009.”

“This bill, this law, can save their younger brothers and sisters and cousins from ever having to live through the pain that they have endured…” said Cantamaglia.

Hessler Jr. interviewed local officials of AAA Mid-Atlantic, a leading motoring organization, who applaud state officials for passing House Bill 9.

Statistics provided by the AAA indicate that fatalities in crashes involving 16 or 17-year-old drivers increased 43% from 2009 to 2010 in PA.  Additionally, according to Ronald W. Kosh, vice president of public and government affairs for AAA, a recent poll showed an overwhelming 96 percent supported teen passenger limits.

Emphasizing that the teen driver fatality crash is four times that of adults, Kosh is calling on Governor Corbett to sign this bill as a way to promote the safety of Pennsylvania’s youngest drivers.

“We urge Gov. Tom Corbett to quickly sign this legislation and thank our state legislators, especially Rep. Watson, for their steadfast efforts to reduce teen driver crashes,” Kosh said.

Corbett is expected to sign the bill within the next 9 days.  The legislation would go into effect 60 days after being signed by the governor.

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