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California Looks To Put The Brake On Teen Drivers Measure Before State Senate Would Restrict Cruising With Friends And Staying Out Late

For Taft High School junior Isabel Abolian, driving means cruising with her girlfriends to the mall and to late-night parties.

But if state Sen. Tim Leslie has his way, Abolian’s friends may have to find another means of transportation.

The Republican’s bill to severely restrict the privileges of new teenage drivers comes up for a vote Monday in the state Senate.

Under SB1329, 16- to 18-year-old drivers would be prohibited from transporting their peers for a period of six months upon receipt of their license. They also would be banned from driving between midnight and 5 a.m. for one year after getting their license. The measure carries penalties of up to 100 hours of community service and a $50 fine.

“They can’t tell us who to put in your car and who not to. Your friends depend on you,” said Abolian, 17, as she watched carloads of teenagers parade by outside the campus in Woodland Hills, 23 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

The measure is not intended to be punitive, said its main proponent.

“The motivation is simple: to save lives,” said Leslie, who was approached by the American Automobile Association to pursue the bill. “The age group targeted here represents about 4 percent of the driving public and 9 percent of the fatalities on the road.”

National highway statistics show that while 16- to 19-year-olds constitute only 7 percent of drivers, they are responsible for 14 percent of fatal crashes, and 20 percent of all crashes.

Leslie said that the measure sailed through the state Senate Transportation and Appropriations committees with no opposition. Critics? There aren’t any, he says, except maybe 16-year-old drivers.

“I think we have a law here,” Leslie said.

But American Civil Liberties Union officials denounced the bill as “short-sighted” legislation that gives police another tool to unjustly search motorists and their cars.

“I can appreciate the sentiments behind the proposal, but it’s very short-sighted,” said Sam Mistrano, legislative director of the ACLU of Southern California.

“If police see any suspicious activity they have the power to stop motorists. It gives police more power and it not needed. This is the wrong way to go about it,” said Mistrano.

Key among the bill’s provisions:

Ban on 16- to 18-year-olds driving with other teenage passengers for the initial six months they have their licenses, unless there is a person 25 or older in the car. The only exception would be driving a sibling with a parent’s consent.

Ban on the same group driving between midnight and 5 a.m. for a year after receiving a license, unless there is a person 25 or older in the car.

Requirement that a parent or legal guardian spend 50 hours practicing with their child - 10 of the hours after dark - before the teen earns his or her license.

“This bill does not delay by a day when you can get behind a wheel and drive that car,” he said.

Tell that to P.J. Gabayan, a Taft High School senior on his way to join a friend in a beige Nissan Maxima. He sees the bill as just one more way to restrict teens’ freedom.

“It’s unfair,” the 18-year-old said. “We’ve got to have our fun. As long as we stay out of trouble, they shouldn’t hassle us.”

Natalie Schaeffer, a 14-year-old ninth-grader at Taft High School, said the proposed law would make it easier for teens to break the law.

“If you’re going to a party you would have to bring 10 different cars and everyone would get tickets” for violating parking restrictions, she said.

Maria Taylor, also a 14-year-old ninth-grader, said the proposed law would be difficult for police to enforce.

“People are going to do it anyway,” she said. “Do they expect us to walk home at midnight because we can’t catch rides home?”


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