Originally created 01/06/01

Proposal may curb teen-agers



ATLANTA - Teen drivers could find city streets closed to them under a proposal offered Friday by Gov. Roy Barnes.

Borrowing from a New York law that prohibits unsupervised teen driving in the city of New York and suburban Long Island, Mr. Barnes said he is drafting legislation that would restrict 16-year-old drivers in Georgia's metropolitan areas.

"This is an epidemic," Mr. Barnes said, noting that automobile accidents are the biggest killer of young Georgians between the ages of 5 and 20.

His initial concept is to limit the restricted area to counties in the Atlanta region, including Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett. But according to the latest state figures, 16-year-old drivers in Chatham, Clarke and Richmond counties have higher accident rates than the metro-Atlanta counties Mr. Barnes singled out

He said he would consider restrictions in the state's other metropolitan areas.

"I've talked with legislators on a broad basis only about the Atlanta area," he said. "So I'd be open to the discussion with legislators" about other parts of the state.

But he said he wants to avoid a battle with rural lawmakers who insist teens are needed for family transportation in areas without municipal bus service.

Rep. Ben Allen, D-Augusta, said the bus service in Augusta isn't good enough for him to favor restricting driving there.

"In the Augusta-Richmond County area, if you don't drive, you don't get anywhere," he said, adding that even most adults refuse to drive in New York.

Mr. Allen also questioned the constitutionality of allowing 16-year-olds to drive in some places but not others.

The American Automobile Association also favors applying uniform driving rules geographically, said Regional Manager Ted Allred.

"My thoughts are that whatever requirement we have probably should apply throughout the state," he said. "The same types of accidents that occur in metro Atlanta occur in other parts of the state."