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Minn.’s new graduated licensing laws limit new drivers in ways to prevent distractions

Scott Schwieger, of West Central Driving School, addresses students Wednesday at his school in downtown Willmar. He thinks Minnesota’s new graduated licensing law provides new incentives for teens to drive safely. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR — While there may have been an increase in deaths of teen drivers nationally last year, Willmar driving instructor Scott Schwieger says there’s another statistic that’s important too.

“Overall all they do a good job,” said Schwieger, who has taught at his West Central Driving School in Willmar for nearly 29 years. “You don’t hear about the percentage who don’t get in an accident.”

A recent report from the Governors Highway Safety Association shows a 19 percent jump in deaths of 16- and 17-year-old drivers in the first six months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011, according to an Associated Press report.

“They’re all great kids,” Schwieger said of his students.

He added that they might get distracted sometimes while they drive.

“They might get caught up in a cell phone conversation or the stereo or a friend,” he said.

Minnesota’s new graduated licensing laws attempt to limit distractions and encourage new teen drivers to concentrate on the road, Schgwieger said.

Other states have also placed added restrictions on new teen drivers, according to the AP story.

Once new drivers in Minnesota receive a learner’s permit, they have to wait six months before applying for a license.

When teens receive their license, they’re limited to driving with one passenger in their vehicle — other than family members — for the first six months that they have a license.

If they are at fault in an accident or receive two tickets during their first year of driving, their license can be suspended for at least 30 days, Schwieger said.

To help his students avoid such setbacks, Schwieger said he reminds students to drive defensively, steer with both hands and to check their rear view mirrors and speedometers every few seconds.

He tries to instill an appreciation for safe driving in them, knowing that some will get tickets or have accidents.

“Teenagers are teenagers,” Schwieger said.

Gary Miller

Gary Miller is a Designer for Forum Communications Co. Born and attended public schools in Willmar, Minn. Served 20 years in U.S. Navy as a photojournalist. Worked at West Central Tribune and Forum Communications since retiring from the Navy in 1994.

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