New state laws affect young drivers, others

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Several state laws recently have gone into effect that deal with how many passengers young drivers can have in their vehicles and the times of the day during which they can drive.

Steamboat Springs police Capt. Joel Rae said he has spoken with several young drivers and parents concerned about the new laws.

Most of the laws went into effect July 1; another one went into effect Aug. 1.

As of July 1, minor drivers are not allowed to have passengers younger than 21 in their cars until they've had a driver's license for at least six months. Drivers also are not allowed to have more than one passenger younger than 21 in their vehicles until they've had their license for at least a year.

The new laws allow exceptions for medical emergencies and for when the passengers are siblings.

Another law that affects youth drivers is a restriction of when they can be on the road.

Until they've had a license for at least a year, young drivers are prohibited from driving between midnight and 5 a.m. The law allows exceptions for medical emergencies, emancipated minors and students driving for school-related activities. However, Rae said, to drive for school-related activities, there must be no school-provided transportation available and the person must have a signed statement from the school.

The driver also is allowed to drive during those late-night and early-morning hours if it is for employment purposes. In those cases, the driver is required to have a signed statement from his or her employer stating the reason the person is driving.

Minors also can drive during the restricted hours if they are emancipated.

"It's a citizen's obligations to know the laws," Rae said. "They're there for the safety of the community."

The new laws are intended to prevent accidents involving high-risk drivers, Rae said.

"You see accidents all the time where a driver is with his friends, he's distracted and they end up getting killed," he said.

In addition to the new youth-driving laws, there also is a new open-container law that affects all drivers.

It used to be legal to have an open container of alchol in a vehicle outside city limits, but that no longer is the case.

It is illegal to have any open container of alcohol, including beer bottles or cans, on public roadways anywhere.

Another new law went into effect July 1 that protects minors from getting minor-in-possession tickets when they call police for someone experiencing medical problems related to drinking.

Rae said there have been cases in Steamboat in which young people were afraid to call police after another minor who had been drinking got alcohol poisoning.

Rae said there also have been cases in which minors will drop their friends off at the emergency room and speed off because they are afraid of getting in trouble.

The new law protects those minors, who might have otherwise have received minor-in-possession tickets. The law hopes to encourage minors to call for help and prevent alcohol-related deaths among young people.

"This gives underaged kids the opportunity to do something good in a bad situation," Rae said.

Rae said there is a limit to how many teens would be protected under the new law. For example, if 20 minors were drinking at a party and only two people helped a minor who got sick, not all 20 people would be immune from getting a ticket.

The last law introduced for young drivers includes cell phones and other electronic de----vices.

Minor drivers are not allowed to use any mobile communication device while driving. Rae said this includes cell phones, Palm Pilots and pagers and any other electric device that could distract a driver.

According to Colorado De----partment of Transportation statistics, nearly 80 percent of the teen passengers who died in car accidents in 2004 were with teen drivers.

In Colorado, a person can get a learner's permit at 15 if he or she is enrolled in a state-approved driver's education program, or at age 15 1/2 after successfully completing a four-hour driver-awareness course. If the person does not go through any type of class, he or she can get the permit at 16.

To get a driver's license, a teen younger than 18 must have had a learner's permit for at least one year and logged 50 hours of driving time with a licensed adult. Ten hours of that driving time must be nighttime driving.

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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