By RICHARD MEEHAN
The Cool Justice Report
Oct. 12, 2007
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com
Fast approaching is a date my wife and I have dreaded for some time: our youngest child’s 16th birthday.
It’s not that we don’t want to see him grow up, although it’s hard to see the “baby” of the family approach adulthood. It isn’t the fact that he is fast becoming an adult or that in less than three years we will be empty nesters, after 36 years of child raising. No, it is that trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles on his birthday to get his learner’s driving permit that has once again filled us with parental angst.
Richie is the youngest of five boys so we are not strangers to this rite of passage. We have lived through four other episodes of driver’s ed classes, and monumental increases in our auto insurance premiums. We have stood in our driveway on countless other days watching a teenager drive off, hoping that he truly understands the privilege a license affords and the responsibility that operating a motor vehicle entails.
By and large we have survived the others. A few fender benders and the occasional traffic violation hadn’t deterred us from allowing the next in succession to venture on to the highway. The last time we did this was 10 years ago when son number four hit the road for the first time. The anxiety level doesn’t decrease with age -- our age.
The rules have evolved through the two decades of student drivers that we have endured. Connecticut has recognized that there should be limits set that allow young drivers to gradually venture out with friends. During the first three months a 16 or 17 year old with a learner’s permit can only drive with parents, or a legal guardian, who must possess a valid license, and no other passengers. The youngster is also permitted to drive with an instructor who is at least 20 years of age and has held a license for four or more consecutive years, and whose license has not been suspended during those four years.
Parents or legal guardians can still home train a youngster but most insurance companies provide a discount for the successful completion of a commercial or secondary school driver’s education program. Good student discounts are also offered.
Failure to follow the rules can lead to a revocation of the learner’s permit and the adults who are training the youngster are charged with the responsibility to see that the rules are being followed.
At least four hours of driver training must be devoted to issues involving driving and alcohol and drugs. Causing death as a result of operating a vehicle impaired by drugs or alcohol constitutes the ten-year felony of manslaughter in the second degree. If the impaired driver causes serious physical injury the charge is the five-year felony of assault in the second degree with a motor vehicle. It matters little that the offender is an otherwise good person with no prior criminal record. Those convicted of these offenses are generally sentenced to substantial prison time.
For 16 and 17 year old drivers the passenger restrictions also apply. Only parents or legal guardian can ride along for the first three months. In the second three months immediate family members are permitted. Until age 18 the young driver cannot operate a vehicle between midnight and 5 a.m. unless traveling for work, school, religious services or medical necessity.
When our two oldest became new drivers cell phones were not common and the phenomenon of text messaging had not yet erupted. Today, the restrictions on distracted driving are more stringent. Until age 18 no young driver can use a cell phone during operation, even with a hands free device. The law also prohibits the use of other mobile electronic devices.
Until 18 young drivers may not transport more passengers than there are seat belts in the vehicle and cannot operate a van pool. Alcohol in a vehicle can lead to suspension, regardless of who is consuming it.
The Department of Motor Vehicles website (www.ct.gov/dmv) offers informative aids to parents and new drivers, alike. Dozens of Podcasts are offered, directed specifically to teen drivers. Podcasts allow the computer user to listen to short, informative lectures on such topics as the dangers of texting and driving, how to drive in the snow and ice, staying focused, avoiding road rage and many others. They can be downloaded to mp3 players like the Ipod for instant access for the youthful driver.
Of course, the learner’s permit is one of the greatest parental incentive devices ever. As the weeks countdown to permit eligibility day we have effectively used the threat of delaying the permit. Our son struggles to roll out of bed in the morning but this school year we have invoked the “I’m not making a second trip into the room rule.” That is for every time we have to call him again to get up we add a week to the calendar to get the permit. So far he hasn’t missed a wake up call! Permit day is coming fast and my wife and I are fastening our seat belts for one last time.
Bridgeport attorney Richard Meehan Jr. was the lead defense counsel for former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim's corruption trial. Meehan is certified as a criminal trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1994 and serves on the organizations Board of Examiners. He is a Charter Fellow, Litigation Counsel of America -- Trial Lawyer Honorary Society. Meehan has also obtained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements in complex medical and dental malpractice and personal injury litigation. He is a past president of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association and appears regularly on Court TV. Website, www.meehanlaw.com