Trying to make the streets safer for teenagers, legislators advanced billsTuesday that would make Illinois one of the toughest in the nation when itcomes to licensing young drivers and take driving rights away if teens arecaught drinking or possessing alcohol.
The move comes in response to growing concerns about the deaths of teenson Illinois roads, accidents often caused by lack of experience behind thewheel and underscored by a yearlong Tribune examination into the causes ofaccidents involving teen drivers.
Lawmakers were further galvanized by a February accident in Oswego thatclaimed the lives of five teenagers who were believed to be coming back froma party in nearby Montgomery. The driver, who is 23, pleaded not guilty toreckless homicide and other felony charges in the crash, which prosecutorsblamed on drunken driving.
Secretary of State Jesse White, after the Tribune series, formed a taskforce that recommended sweeping changes to the state's graduated driver'slicense program for teens.
The legislation would sharply restrict driving privileges for anyone underage 18. Young drivers would have to practice with a learner's permit for ninemonths before getting a license, up from the current three months.
Young drivers would be required to wait at least a year before transportingmore than one unrelated teen passenger.
Legislation would also move up curfew by one hour, to 10 p.m. weekdays and11 p.m. weekends.
"There are going to be a lot of states that duplicate this when we aredone," said Rep. John D'Amico (D-Chicago), the bill's sponsor. "This will makethem better, more productive drivers, and it's safer for everyone on theroad."
The proposal, which passed the Senate in March, was approved 11-0 by theHouse Drivers Education and Safety Committee.
The bill has attracted more than 30 co-sponsors in the House, with a floorvote possible next week.
By tripling the length of the permit phase, proponents said, young driverswould encounter a full range of weather situations, from ice and snow to heavyrain and bright sunshine.
Teens also would have to maintain a clean driving record for at least 15months before being issued a full license.
Students would be required to undergo at least six hours ofbehind-the-wheel training from a certified driving instructor. The Tribunefound some instructors provided just two hours of behind-the-wheel experience.
A license could be revoked if a young driver is convicted of at least twomoving violations within 24 months, as well as for racing on public streets.
"This is a comprehensive package of reforms that really looks at how weeducate our young drivers," said Rep. Dan Brady (R-Bloomington), who notedthat the new restrictions would require parents to be more involved inteaching their teens safe behavior behind the wheel.
To discourage minors from drinking and driving, the Senate TransportationCommittee unanimously approved a bill that would revoke the driving privilegesof anyone placed under court supervision for underage drinking or possessionof alcohol. The offense does not have to involve driving.
"For teenagers, their driver's license is their No. 1 concern," saidKendall County State's Atty. Eric Weis, who testified for the bill Tuesday."They are not afraid of the court system
Kids know they aren't going to jail for a first offense. But every 16-
or 17-year-old I know also doesn't want to have to ride the bus to school."
Once the three-month suspension is over, the offense would be removed fromthe minor's public driving record.
"We don't want to make criminals out of kids," said Rep. Tom Cross(R-Oswego) , who sponsored the bill in the House.
The bill, which passed the House 115-1 in March, is expected to be voted onby the full Senate within two weeks.