Police, PennDOT offer reminders about new teen driving law

PUNXSUTAWNEY — There were no citations, only warnings: Pennsylvania’s new laws regarding teenage drivers have changed, and unless they are in compliance, they will be cited.

Thursday, Punxsutawney Borough Police officers, Pennsylvania State Police troopers and representatives from PennDOT performed a detail during dismissal at Punxsutawney Area High School, handing out literature about the new law — Act 81, which took effect Dec. 27, 2011 — and to check for seatbelt usage among departing students.

“I think everybody knows they should be buckled up,” said Shawn Houck, PennDOT safety press officer. “There are just a few who need it reinforced.”

Act 81 says that drivers and occupants in a vehicle who are under the age of 18 must wear a properly adjusted and fastened seatbelt, and children under the age of eight must be securely fastened in a child restraint system.

The one item that police noted to departing students: Faliure to comply with the new law is a primary offense, meaning a driver can be pulled over and cited solely for violating this provision.

“There is strong evidence that shows seatbelts save lives,” Houck said. “People have lived through accidents through seatbelt usage.”

Also, Act 81 states that for the first six months after receiving a junior license, a teen driver is not permitted to have more than one passenger under the age of 18 who is not an immediate family member in the vehicle, unless he or she is accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

Houck said young drivers are just starting to gain driving experience, and don’t need further distractions in the vehicle, especially while driving at night. There are already distractions, such as cell phone and text usage, that teens should consider and resist temptation to use.

“There are too many crashes because a driver is distracted,” Houck said, and the message comes at a time when spring events such as prom are on the horizon.

“Today’s not about citations,” he said about Thursday’s detail at PAHS. “It’s about warnings and education.”

Enforcement of the new law began Thursday and will continue on roads near the high school/middle school campus through March 4.