Originally created 03/06/03

Lawmakers loosen teen driving law



ATLANTA -- Georgia lawmakers are taking a second look at the rash of get-tough teen driving laws they passed in the past five years.

The House voted Wednesday to loosen one of the most unpopular rules for young drivers - one that requires people under 21 to lose their licenses for some speeding violations.

House members approved a bill that allows limited licenses for speeding violators age 18 to 21. The move was inspired by a deluge of complaints that young adults were being forced to quit jobs and college courses because they lost their licenses.

Even supporters of tough teen driving laws voted for the change.

"The absolute truth is that the bill worked, but there have been some inequities," said the House Democratic leader, Jimmy Skipper of Americus. "It's time for us to look again at what was unduly burdening those we were trying to protect."

The bill would allow speeders to apply for a limited license, allowing them to drive to work and school. Currently, people under 21 convicted of driving 24 mph or more faster than the speed limit lose their licenses for six months, with no exceptions.

The exception for people between 18 and 21 passed 165-2. Several lawmakers rose to complain about the strict rules for people otherwise considered adults.

"People get married at 19 or 20. They've got jobs to go to. It's a major problem," said Rep. Tom Rice, R-Norcross.

Another lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Gail Buckner of Jonesboro, told the chamber about a single mother of two who lost her license because of a speeding ticket.

The license suspensions would still be mandatory for offenses such as reckless driving, vehicular homicide or driving under the influence. Also, the mandatory suspensions for 16- and 17-year-olds wouldn't change.

House members approved an amendment that would require warnings to be given to young speeders that they will lose their licenses if they pay the fine and accept guilt.

"A lot of the problem is these people just don't know they're going to lose their licenses," said Rep. Tom Bordeaux, D-Savannah.

One of the bill's opponents was Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain.

"I just hate to see that we're going back and making this more lax," he said. "That was a very hard battle we fought. It's a major shift in what we worked hard for several years ago."

Democrats countered that the main tenets of recent teen driving laws are intact - graduated licenses and severe penalties for speeding. Skipper said the new laws are working to make roads safer.

"Back then, there was a lot of push to do something about the rash of teenage deaths and wrecks," he said. "Now let's try a little loosening and see if we can't continue to save lives."

The bill now heads to the Senate.

On the Net:

Read House Bill 185: http://www.legis.state.ga.us/legis/2003-04/leg/legislation.htm