Many 16-year-olds not following Alabama's graduated license law

Many 16-year-olds not following Alabama's graduated license law

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The death of a Lee High School star athlete in a crash last week is raising awareness of Alabama's Graduated Driver's License.

The law went into effect in 2010, but accidents prove drivers are overlooking the restrictions and lives are being lost.

Alabama's Graduated Driver's License, or GDL, has three stages ranging from a learner's permit to an unrestricted license, but the focus is on stage two, which applies to 16-year-olds who have passed the road test.

"When they give that child the keys to a vehicle, they are giving them a tool," ALEA Cpl. Jess Thornton said of parents. "But they may be giving them a weapon as well."

Authorities are pleading with parents to help them enforce this law. Under the GDL, 16-year-olds can only have one non-family member in the car, can't drive between midnight and 6a.m., unless certain circumstances apply, and cannot have access to a handheld device or cell phone.

"They cannot have a phone in their possession while they are driving," Thornton said. "There's no talking, no texting -- anything that takes their focus away from driving."

If a 16-year-old is in violation, they will get six additional months under Stage 2, an additional ticket could suspend the license for 60 days. District Attorney Randall Houston says that's not enough.

"I don't even think it constitutes a slap on the wrist," Houston said. "Teenagers want that freedom, but if they stand the chance of losing that freedom, because they are in violation of these laws, maybe they will stop."

Houston helped draft the Deputy Hart Act, which would increase the penalty for violating the GDL and even penalize parents for not enforcing it. It's named after a deputy killed by a teenage driver in violation.

"We are trying to combat 16-year-olds who think they are invincible, and parents who are not aware," Houston said. "These laws on the book for a good reason, we need parents to help us enforce these rules."

Thornton reminds parents the law is not intended to push penalties or fines, but keep the most vulnerable, accident-prone drivers safe.

"Driving is not a right, it's a privilege," Thornton said. "Ultimately parents can be held responsible for the decisions that they make by letting those teenagers lose and letting them do whatever they want to behind the wheel of a vehicle."

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