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Published February 22, 2011, 03:13 PM

ND House Approves New Rules for Teen Drivers

Teenage drivers would have to wait an extra six months before they could drive without adult supervision under a bill that passed the North Dakota House on Tuesday.

By: Associated Press,

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Teenage drivers would have to wait an extra six months before they could drive without adult supervision under a bill that passed the North Dakota House on Tuesday.

Young drivers now may get learners' permits when they're 14 years old and drive without adult supervision six months later.

The bill, which the House approved 71-22, requires drivers younger than 16 to have adult supervision for a full year. It also bars any driver who is younger than 18 from using a cell phone while behind the wheel.

The legislation now moves to the North Dakota Senate for its review.

It has been pushed by parents of young drivers killed in accidents, the state Department of Transportation, the Highway Patrol and Gov. Jack Dalrymple. Supporters say requiring teens to have more driving experience before they drive unsupervised can reduce accidents and save lives.

"Why are we in such a rush to push these kids on the road to drive when they have their whole life ahead of them to drive a car?" said Rep. Michael Nathe, R-Bismarck.

Nathe, who owns a funeral home, said he was "sick and tired" of conducting services for young drivers killed in accidents.

"I've seen the tragedy firsthand and the lifetime of pain inexperienced driving can cause," he said. "This bill will save lives."

The bill adds restrictions for teenage drivers who are younger than 18. They may not drive without an adult after sunset, or 9 p.m., whichever comes later, unless they're driving to or from school, work or religious activity.

Teens who have restricted licenses, which they can get at 15, must complete 50 hours of driving in a variety of conditions and road surfaces before they receive an unrestricted license.

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, called the 50-hour requirement a good guideline for parents but said the state could not enforce it.

The bill is more lenient than it was when first introduced. A requirement that parents sign a sworn statement attesting that their children have had at least 50 hours of driving experience was removed. Another restriction, on the number of passengers a young driver may carry, also was taken out.

North Dakota is the only state that allows 14-year-olds to drive unsupervised, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. If the bill passes, North Dakota would still be relatively easy on young drivers: it would join Montana as the only two states that allow teens to drive when they turn 15, according to association data.

"Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death of teens between 14 and 17 in North Dakota," Ruby said. "Requiring more time for training and experience, and having fewer distractions for young drivers is the best way to ensure the number of deaths will drop. North Dakota is way behind the curve in this area."

Rep. Craig Headland, R-Montpelier, argued the bill was cumbersome and said parents should be responsible for teaching their children driving skills.

"How much further are we going to go . . . to erode parental responsibility?" Headland asked. "I just see it in bill after bill after bill, and I think it's unwarranted."

The bill is HB1256.

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