By tomorrow, Pennsylvania's new laws will be in place to better protect teens younger than 18 who have a driver's permit or junior license.

The law affects current permit-holders younger than 18 who have not yet passed the driving skills test before Dec. 27 will have to meet the requirements of the new law.

In summary, the new law increases behind-the-wheel training requirements, places a limit on the number of passengers a young driver can transport and makes not wearing a seat belt a primary offense for young drivers.

First, those with a driver's permit under 18 years of age will l be required to have 15 additional hours of supervised, behind-the-wheel training, bringing the total to 65 hours. Ten of the additional hours must include driving at night and five hours must be in poor weather conditions.

Second, drivers younger than 18 will not be permitted to transport more than one passenger who is under 18 and is not an immediate family member unless they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. After six months, the junior driver may transport up to three passengers younger than 18 who are not immediate family members without a parent or legal guardian present, but only if that driver has not been convicted of a driving violation or has not been partially or fully responsible for a reportable crash.

Third, police will be able to pull over drivers younger than 18 if they or their passengers are not using seat belts. The law requires that junior drivers and passengers must wear a seat belt, and children under the age of eight must be fastened in a child restraint system. The seat belt provisions are primary offenses, meaning a driver can be stopped and cited solely for that violation.

After the state legislature approved the measure in September, the American Automobile Association (AAA) immediately praised it, stating that it will limit the distractions faced by young drivers. Some lawmakers, however, said that the law didn't go far enough and should include a ban on using hand-held cell phones while driving.

The bill became reality after the home district of bill sponsor Rep. Katharine Watson was rocked by several teen tragedies. After the legislature approved the measure, the Bucks County Republican broke it down in more familiar, everyday terms.

"For the first time, this bill backs up in law parents who say that for the first six months of having a license, the teen driver can't take a carload of friends to the pizzeria after a football game," Rep. Watson said.

Thanks to Rep. Watson, we have a law with teeth that can protect young lives.

For more information on young driver safety, visit PennDOT's highway safety website, www.DriveSafePA.org [1] and select the "Young Driver" link under the Traffic Safety Information Center.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonlne.com [2]