Weather Forecast


Senate approves teen driver restrictions

ST. PAUL -- Provisions restricting young drivers moved closer to law Monday.

Senators Monday gave preliminary approval to a bill -- similar to one the House passed last week -- banning drivers in their first six months of holding a license from driving between midnight and 5 a.m., in most cases, and made it illegal to carry more than one other youth not related to the driver.

"Between midnight and 5 a.m., folks, is when teenage drivers die on the roads," Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said.

The bill places three restrictions on the young drivers:

- No driving is allowed between midnight and 5 a.m. unless it is to school or work for the first six months a person younger than 18 has a driver's license. However, if a licensed driver at least 25 years old is in the car, the young person may drive.

- Only one teenage passenger may be with a driver in the first six months of holding a license. The exception is if passengers are family members.

- For the second six months of holding a license, a driver cannot have more than three teenage or younger passengers, other than family members.

Sens. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, and Betsy Wergin, R-Princeton, said parents should make such decisions, not the state.

"This is another excuse for police to stop young drivers just to see what is going on," Wergin said.

Tomassoni also criticized a provision that allows law enforcement officials to stop a vehicle if a seat belt violation is suspected. Current law allows officers to give tickets to people not wearing seat belts, but only after stopping a vehicle for another reason.

"People ought to be available to make that decision on their own," Tomassoni said, while adding that seat belts do save lives.

"This is a cash cow," Tomassoni said, indicating some senators support the measure because it brings money into the state via fines.

Murphy, the Senate transportation chairman, has been a long-time proponent of what is known as the primary seat belt law. He said it would save lives, especially on rural Minnesota roads where many traffic fatilities occur.

The bill also:

- Requires children younger than 8 to be in an approved restraint system in most passenger vehicles.

- Increases qualifications needed to drive vans or cars used by school districts. It also bans mobile telephone use and does not allow use of controlled substances by drivers of those vehicles. Background checks on those drivers also would be increased.

- Requires one of the top state transportation officials to be a licensed engineer.

- Establishes bronze and silver star medal license plates for veterans.

- Allows disabled Minnesotans to obtain more than one disability license plate.

- Requires a vehicle seller to disclose if a vehicle has sustained damage worth at least 60 percent of its cash value. Current law provides for that only when damage is at least 70 percent.

- Sets up a sesquicentennial license plate for celebrating the state's 150th birthday, although the plates would not be available until after the state celebrates that birthday next month.

- Requires farm implements to comply with bridge weight limits. Current law allows farmers to take implements over the weight limit on bridges.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.