A new licensing law will go into effect Jan. 1 to reduce teen driving accidents. It includes an extra step in the licensing process and penalties for those who are convicted of moving violations.
"For two years, we've been lobbying for it, and last year AAA was able to get it passed," said Laura Rightenburg, public relations manager for AAA Arizona.
"We're certainly not doing it to punish teenagers."
In fact, a group of teenagers from Glendale became part of the lobbying process and spoke to legislators about what they wanted to include in the new licensing process.
City of Glendale Traffic Educator Jeannie LaVelle said, "After it went into effect, I made sure they were at the Governor's signing in June."
The bill that passed the Legislature in April was a response to some alarming statistics about teen drivers in the state.
In 1998, more than 800 Arizona drivers under the age of 18 were involved in fatal car crashes. Some 7,300 teens were involved in crashes that resulted in injuries.
"This is due to a lack of education and driving experience," said Rightenburg.
Teen drivers have to be carefully taught. That's the message of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, Glendale city officials, AAA Arizona, the state's Motor Vehicle Division and the commission made up of 17-year-old Glendale youths.
Rightenburg said 15- to 20-year-olds account for more than 14 percent of all crashes and 11 percent of all highway fatalities.
Taking that extra step for the restricted or probationary license after the learner's permit may be the simplest, most effective way to address the problem. The extra step is a Class G license, that will cost $25.
After 18, a teenage driver will not be required to obtain a Class D (unrestricted driver's license) if he or she already has a Class G license.
According to information in a brochure created by the Glendale teens, more than half the states in the country have adopted some form of the law that contains three basic stages: a learner's permit, restricted or probationary stage, and unrestricted license.
Rightenburg said the movement to adopt a graduated licensing law for teens began in 1996. AAA became involved in lobbying for the law around the country in 1997.
"Most states report a 5-percent reduction rate in crashes among teens," Rightenburg said. "The first year of Florida's bill, crashes among teens decreased by 9 percent."
After Jan. 1, getting a new license in Arizona will require the following steps:
• At age 15 and 7 months, a new driver must pass a written test to be eligible for a learner's permit. A licensed driver is required to be in the car with a driver who has a learner's permit.
• At age 16, a new driver must pass a road test. The new driver must also have completed driver's education or have a parent or guardian certify that he or she has completed 20 hours of daytime driving and five hours of nighttime driving while under the supervision of a licensed driver.
• At 18 years of age, a new driver can get a Class D or unrestricted driver's license, which will cost $4.
During the restricted or probationary stage, a Class G license, drivers are not required to have an adult driver in the car with them. There are no nighttime driving restrictions, no passenger restrictions, and drivers are not required to graduate from high school before obtaining a Class G license.
If you hold an unrestricted license prior to Dec. 31, 1999, you are not required to obtain a Class G license, regardless of age.
But, after Jan. 1, the new penalties affect everyone under age 18, regardless of what license they hold.
If you are convicted of a moving violation and you're under 18, the new penalties are as follows:
• 1st Violation -- If you attend Defensive Driving School, your record remains clean.
• 2nd Violation/ 1st Conviction -- You must attend Traffic Survival School and the violation remains on the record for 39 months.
• 3rd Violation/2nd Conviction -- Your license will be suspended for three months and the violation remains on record for 39 months.
• 4th Violation/3rd Conviction -- You receive a six month suspension and the violation remains on record for 39 months.
"We definitely see the results happening," Rightenburg said. "It's just a matter of implementing it here. We don't want teenagers dying on our city streets. We want them to become productive adults who drive safely on the road along with everyone else."
For information on the GDL, call 1-800-352-5382.