The laws for teenage drivers are getting tougher.
Drivers younger than 18 are banned from using cell phones while driving and must spend twice as long practicing driving before getting a license, according to a new law that goes into effect Sept. 1. The law applies to teens getting a license on or after that date.
"A 16-year-old on a cell phone's reaction time is that of a 70-year-old," said Brett Arterburn, chief of police in Pottsboro, north of Dallas.
Arterburn worked with a Pottsboro community group, Less Tears … More Years, to get the teen driving law revised after two teens in his community died in traffic accidents. Arterburn said he was disturbed when he found that high school football players practice more before a game than teens practice driving before they can earn a license.
It is vital that new drivers minimize distractions as they are gaining experience on the road, said Becky Rendon, director of health services for the North East Independent School District. Rendon, whose 16-year-old daughter recently got her license, said she considers cell phone use while driving a major public health problem for all drivers.
"You have to have your eyes on the road at all times," Rendon said.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A survey by Allstate Insurance Company showed 88 percent of teens talk or text on their phone while driving and 33 percent have gotten in a car accident during the first year they have their license. The survey also said that summer is the deadliest time of the year for teens when an average of about 15 teens die per day.
Eighteen-year-old Celina Quilantan, who recently graduated from Warren High School, nearly ended up as another statistic last year.
"I had my first car accident when I was 17 because a man was on his cell phone and wasn't paying attention," Quilantan said. She was driving on the highway when a middle-aged man talking on a phone hit her car. She spun across the highway into the shoulder of the other lane into oncoming traffic.
"It was horrible, the worst experience of my life," Quilantan said.
The revised teen driving law, which is known as "The Less Tears, More Years Act" after Arterburn's group, aims to arm teens with the knowledge and training they will need to help prevent accidents such as Quilantan's by increasing the requirements to get a license, Arterburn said.
The law more than doubles the number of in-car training hours from 14 to 34. Driving at night will be required for at least 10 of those hours.
It also extends the restriction for teens driving with passengers. For the first year, teens may have only one passenger under age 21 who is not a family member. The previous restriction had been six months.
Jarred DeSalme, 15, was at the DPS office on Babcock Road this week getting his driving permit. DeSalme and his mother, Syndie, were unaware of the changes in the law.
Syndie DeSalme said she was hoping her son would be able to help her drive people around.
"The only thing I don't like about it is having to wait a full year," Syndie DeSalme said. "He's been driving since he was 12."
Jarred DeSalme said it "probably won't be as fun to drive for the first full year," but "it will probably give me a better experience." He agreed with the banning of cell phones saying, he "wouldn't have as much distractions to begin with."
Arterburn said he hopes the changes will help prevent teen deaths like those in his community. In May 2007, 16-year-old Shelby "Johnson" Dunn, died in a car accident while on her way to school in Pottsboro. Thirty days later another Pottsboro teen, Jordan Onstott, lost her life in a fatal car crash.
Phil Johnson, Dunn's stepfather worked with Arterburn to form Less Tears, More Years.