(Copyright 2000. The Tattoo. All rights reserved.)

The Tattoo

--- Making a Permanent Impression Since 1994 ---

April 10, 2000

New laws to hit teen drivers

By Tattoo Staff Writers

Several bills restricting teen drivers are now working their
way through the state legislature, creating controversy among
students, teachers and politicians.

Aimed at preventing teen driving fatalities, the bills propose
30 hours of supervised permit driving, a mandatory drug test
before licensing and a limit on the number of passengers
teens may carry. 

"I don't think it's really infringing on your rights," said John
Girard, a science teacher and driving instructor at Bristol
Eastern High School. 

Girard said he's strongly in favor of  what's being called
"graduated licensing" in Connecticut.

While teenagers make up only 7 percent of all drivers, they
are involved in 21 percent of all fatal crashes. Girard said
that the new measures could go a long way toward bringing
such numbers down.

Girard suggested those who would oppose the drug and
alcohol testing are perhaps users, and said he supports
limiting the number of passengers that newly licensed teens
can take with them. He suggests only two: the new driver's

Such limiting, Girard said, prevents "the daredevil thing;
'c'mon, let's see who could go faster.'"

State Sen. Tom Colapietro disagrees with both drug testing
and the limiting of passengers.

"I don't think they should do that to anybody," the Terryville
Democrat said of mandatory drug testing. "It's like assuming
you're guilty before you're proven guilty."

"If you're not fit to drive a car with one passenger, you're not
fit to drive with 10," said Colapietro. "If you can drive safely
with one passenger, you can drive with 10."

"I think it's good," said Bristol resident Traci Stephenson. "I
know three people in the last three months who've gotten into
car accidents involving drinking and driving, drugs and
marijuana. They were fairly young, 23 to 24."

Stephenson said loud music, talking, laughing and cell phone
abuse causes them to be unfocused behind the wheel.

"Four people if you're going to the beach" is fine, she said.

"[The] kids have to have a little give and take with it, also,"
said Girard. If not, he explained, teens could be looking at
something more stringent.

Girard pointed out most accidents happen within the students'
first month of licensed driving. He also recommended
guardians accompany newly licensed drivers for the first
month or two.

Students, for their part, are divided over the measures. While
many feel the restrictions could save lives, some are skeptical.

Melissa Houle, a sophomore at Eastern, said having a lot of
passengers can be distracting. "I have been in a car with too
many people. I realized that it is dangerous, and this may
make it safer," Houle said.

Vickie Rackliffe, another Eastern sophomore, disagreed.
"People shouldn't be limited as long as everyone has a seat
belt," she said. "If the car has room for five people and they
all have seat belts on, it's fine."

Others agreed with the drug test bill. 

Kristin Cretella, another Eastern sophomore, said a drug test
will show if the person is responsible enough to be driving.
"If they were smoking [pot] before, they're likely to do it
after," she said.

Rackliffe agreed, saying that it was "fine, because I don't do
drugs and that won't affect me. If I was under the influence of
drugs I shouldn’t be driving anyway."

"If you're going to be driving you shouldn't be using drugs or
drinking," said Camille James, an Eastern senior who just
completed driver's ed. "You should be more responsible."

Although the proposed bill would require all new drivers to
take drug tests, the vast majority of new drivers are

"When you go through driver's ed and get your license,
you've proved you're pretty responsible," said James. "The
stereotypical view of teens is that they're wild, but I think it
depends on the person."

Reporting on this story were Tattoo staff writers Mike Nguyen,
Kate Jordan, Sarah Jordan, Natalie Minor, Jen Rajotte,
Chantelle Garzone, Hila Yosafi and Joe Wilbur.