A number of police departments throughout the area are taking part in multiple outreach and awareness efforts to raise awareness about the state's teen driver law that went into effect in December.
On Tuesday, police from Rush Township, Pottsville, Weatherly, Lehighton and Jim Thorpe held various seat-belt and teen-driver safety enforcement at local high schools. Activities included pulling vehicles over for vehicle and traffic violations, classes, handing out informative brochures and providing public service announcements to the schools and community. The law enforcement activities will run through March 4.
New rules for Act 81, or Lacey's Law, involve graduated drivers license requirements, passenger restrictions for junior drivers and passenger restraint laws. The law was named after Lacey Gallagher, an 18-year-old driver who was killed after a vehicle she was in hit a concrete median.
In April of 2007, a SUV filled with teenagers leaving a prom outside Philadelphia struck a median and rolled over, killing Gallagher and injuring six others. None of the seven teens were wearing seatbelts.
According to Gov. Tom Corbett's website, the changes in the law were initiated to help junior drivers receive more comprehensive training, ease young driver distractions through limiting the number of passengers they may carry and improve general highway safety through improvements to passenger restraint laws.
Some changes, involving junior driver training, are meant to increase supervised, behind-the-wheel skill building for learner's permit holders under 18 years of age from 50 hours to 65 hours. Ten of the added supervised hours will consist of nighttime driving, while the other five additional hours must be driven in poor weather conditions.
Learner's permit holders who have taken their on-the-road driving skills test before the law's effective date of Dec. 24, 2011, only need to complete the present requirements of 50 hours of supervised training. However, learners permit holders who have not passed the on-the-road driving skills test before Dec. 24, 2011 will have to meet the new requirement of 65 total hours of supervised skill building training before the are authorized to take the driving skills portion of their driver's test to receive their junior license.
A responsible licensed driver age 21 or older is required to provide the supervised training. When the young person takes the test, a parent or legal guardian must sign a certification form stating that the young driver has had the 65 hours of combined training.
Changes to Act 81 regarding junior driver passengers increase restrictions on the number and age of passengers which a junior driver may transport. Prior to current law, drivers under the age of 18 were limited to transporting no more than the number of seat belts in the vehicle. Under current law, for the first six months after receiving their junior driver's license, a driver is not permitted to have more than one passenger under the age of 18 who is not an immediate family member (I.E. brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister of the junior driver and adopted foster child living in the same household as the junior driver) in their vehicle unless they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
If they have not been convicted of a driving violation or been partially or fully responsible for a reportable crash after six months, junior drivers may have up to three passengers under the age of 18 who are not immediate family members without a parent or legal guardian present. A reportable crash is defined as one in which an injury or fatality occurs or at least one of the vehicles involved requires being towed from the scene.
If they have any convictions or are partially or fully responsible for a reportable crash while a junior driver, however, they are once again restricted to one passenger.
Seatbelt requirements rules have also been added to the law. The rules state that drivers and occupants in a vehicle who are under the age of 18 must wear a properly adjusted and fastened seat belt, and children under the age of eight must be securely and properly fastened in a child restraint system. Failure to comply with the new law's seat belt provisions is considered a primary offense; meaning that a driver can be pulled over and cited solely for that violation.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the number of crashes involving unbelted teenage drivers and passengers is high. The site states that in 2010, 1,796 drivers and 1,502 unbelted passengers were aged 16 to 19 during the crash; with age 19 consisting of 642 drivers and 391 passengers.