The No-buddy rule: Many new drivers skirt six-month license restrictions

January 2011 Posted in Other

By Aurora Ellison

To most 16-year-old kids, six months seems like forever.

According to an Oregon law, young drivers in the first six months after receiving their license are prohibited from transporting passengers younger than 20 years old, except for immediate family members.

Translation for a young person who just got his or her license: you can’t drive your friends to a movie or basketball game until you have had your license for six months.

Decrease in traffic accidents

In 2007, the Oregon Department of Transportation reported studies have shown a decrease in suspensions and crashes involving young drivers since the “graduated” driver’s license program was implementated in 2000.  In spite of their complaints, many Silverton High School students conceded the restrictions are understandable.

Steven Hall, a junior, respects the passenger rule.

“The more friends are around, the more likely you are to do something stupid,” he said.

Silverton’s Traffic Officer Daniel Thurman concurred.

“I think it’s a huge privilege to be able to drive at 16 years old and it’s a very big responsibility too.

There are a few that don’t see the danger of having their friends in the car, but it is a very dangerous thing to be a new driver and have a car full of friends,” he said.

Students’ reactions

Out of a group of about 15 Silverton High School students interviewed, none reported receiving a ticket for driving with friends during their first six months, and only one or two knew someone who had received a ticket for driving with non-family passengers. But the students admitted many of their peers break the rule restricting non-family passengers for the first six months of their new license.

“Most everyone breaks that rule,” sophomore Morgan Coxen said. “Of all the people I know, me and one other person are the only ones who follow it.”

Aden Krueger, a junior, agreed that a majority of new drivers he knows give rides to their friends.

“Natalie,” a junior in her first six months of driving, said some of her friends follow the first six months restrictions and some don’t. She argued friends can be a help instead of a distraction, like the time a friend warned her when she was about to run a stop sign.

Realizing her example proved that she breaks the passenger rule, she quickly added she only broke the rule “that one time.”

Only one student admitted to habitually breaking the passenger rule.  He said he was the first one to drive in his group of friends, so they often depended on him.

“You wait so long to get your license,” he said. When it came to the passenger restrictions he decided,

“No, I’ve already waited long enough.” He was never caught.

Officer Thurman doesn’t have specific numbers available, but he said he doesn’t write very many citations for breaking the six-month rule.

“Either the kids are actually obeying that statute, or when they do have [illegal passengers] in the car, they drive like perfect angels,” he said.

In a lively group discussion, students pointed out the inconvenience of this restriction on passengers.

“It’s so wasteful to have a bunch of people driving from one place to another separately,” senior Xander Harris said.

Now that he has passed his six-month mark, Harris said whenever he has a car he tries to drive as many people as he can.

“If you work hard to get your license, why can’t you be trusted to drive others around?” asked Adrienne Wilson. More than one student agreed with her line of thought.

Carin Norris took issue with the exception to be able to drive siblings during the six-month restriction.

“Over the summer I had to drive around my sisters a lot and it was annoying. Siblings can be distracting too,” Norris said.

Austin Anderson, who lives 20 minutes outside of town, would rather be able to get a ride home with friends. He said he often has to wait for his dad to get off work to get a ride.

“It’s a lot less for my parents to do and a lot less waste of time for me [to ride home with friends],” Anderson said.

Enforcement and consequences

Officer Thurman said that the six-month passenger rule is technically a primary offense because it falls under the heading of driving without a license since the new driver’s license doesn’t cover non-family passengers.

Besides a fine, consequences can include impounding the vehicle.

If Thurman stops a young driver with illegal passengers, he writes the citation but allows the driver to park and  let out his passengers to avoid impounding the vehicle.

Thurman said he does not stop young drivers simply because they have young passengers.  However, Silverton is small enough that Thurman sometimes recognizes a young driver.  If he knows they are in their first six months he will stop them if he sees a car full of friends.

Some students shared worries beyond the legalities of driving with friends in the car.

“I’m more worried about my parents than the law,” Coxen said.

His said his consequences at home might include losing his license or his car, which belongs to his parents.

His mother, Marie Coxen, is a teacher at Eugene Field and knows many people in the community.

“It’s pretty easy for us to know what Morgan’s doing most of the time,” Marie Coxen said. “Our kids know that there’s not a whole lot that [we] don’t find out about.”

Aden Krueger is the third son of J.R. and Abigail Krueger. All of their sons have made smooth transitions into the responsibility of driving without violations.  The parents say their main strategy is communication.

“We have to know where they are and what their plans are,” said J.R. Krueger, “for their sakes more than anything, so that if they’re not [home on time] we know that we should start to check.”

Abigail added that she and J.R. always “check in” with each other about their plans, so it comes naturally for their kids to do the same.

J.R. Krueger’s support of the driving restrictions is enthusiastic.

“It wouldn’t hurt me if they said a year [without non-family passengers], especially for boys,” he said.

Law-abiding or not, all new drivers are impatient. Coxen knows the exact date his six months will be over, and is looking forward to Feb. 9. Then and only then, can Coxen legally drive a few friends to go to a movie or basketball game.

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