Driving Laws for Teens

NEW LAWS FOR TEENS

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On December 27, 2011, Act 81, Lacey’s Law came into effect. This act modifies the Vehicle Code with regard to junior drivers in several respects.


SECTION 1503 PROVIDES FOR RESTRICTIONS ON JUNIOR DRIVERS AS FOLLOWS:

• For the first six months of driving, junior drivers cannot have more than one passenger under 18 in the car who is not an immediate family member unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.
• After the first six months, the junior driver cannot have more than three passengers under 18 in the car who are not immediate family members unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.
• Junior drivers cannot have more than one passenger under 18 in the car who is not an immediate family member unless accompanied by a parent or guardian if he or she has been involved in a reportable crash in which they are partially or fully responsible or have been convicted of a violation of the Vehicle Code.


SECTION 4581 PROVIDES FOR THE USE OF RESTRAINT SYSTEMS AND JUNIOR DRIVERS AS FOLLOWS:

• This section requires any driver of a car, Class I and II trucks, and motor homes to wear a seat belt and to cause occupants, from ages 8 to under 18, to be secured with a restraint. If the driver is a junior driver they must wear a seat belt and any violation of the provisions of this section are primary offenses. Failure of an adult to wear a seat belt remains a secondary offense.
• The fine structure is also changed.
• It is rather obvious that some of the elements of the offenses for junior drivers are not readily established by mere observation. Age is not readily established by observation between vehicles, nor is a person’s driving record. For this reason, it is anticipated that even though the offenses listed above are primary offenses, they will not often be the primary reason for a stop. Nothing in the statute purports to change the level of suspicion necessary for a valid traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution or under Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. A traffic stop is a temporary detention under both.
• As we know, the requirement for probable cause to stop a vehicle enunciated in Commonwealth v. Gleason was undone by the amendment of section 6308 of the Vehicle Code that allowed for an investigatory stop on “reasonable suspicion.” While there is, of course, no case law concerning reasonable suspicion with regard to the new amendments, the cases that developed the standard in regard to 75 Pa.C.S.A. §4524(c) are instructive. Section 4524(c) prohibits hanging material from the rear view mirror so “as to materially obstruct, obscure, or impair the driver’s vision through the front window or any manner as to constitute a safety hazard.”
• In the case of Commonwealth v. Holmes, 14 A3d 89, (PA 2011), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made several controlling pronouncements of law in deciding that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to stop in this case. First, a determination of whether an officer has reasonable suspicion is an objective one that is considered in light of the totality of the circumstances. In justifying a particular intrusion, the police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with all rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion. In other words, the facts available to the officer at the moment of seizure must warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that his actions are appropriate. Testimony is critical and the officer must be able to articulate the facts and inferences in light of his experience that justified the stop.
• These concepts were further refined by the Superior Court in Commonwealth v. Shabazz, 18 A.3d 1217 (Pa. Super. 2011). The Commonwealth bears the burden of establishing the validity of a stop and the officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which lead him to reasonably suspect a violation of the Vehicle Code. In this case, which was also a case of things hanging from the rear-view mirror, the officer established not only that objects were hanging from the mirror, but that the object materially obstructed the driver’s vision through the windshield.
• For our purposes we can conclude that the officer must be able to testify that he could see seat belts hanging and NOT in use or perhaps an obviously young child or infant not in a child safety seat. After that, testimony as to why the officer thought the driver was under 18 will be critical. We do not know if the officer’s opinion coupled with his experience in estimating age without more will be enough. Estimating another person's age comes naturally to most people. Some find it more challenging than others, but it's an ability we usually don't give much thought to. There are few other factual indicators that can be added. Sometimes younger drivers may affix a bumper sticker indicating a high school class year. If that sticker would normally be populated with 16 or 17 year olds yet to graduate, that fact could be considered. Personal recognition can always be considered. If the officer knows the youngster is under 18 or knows the parents and concludes that their child would most likely be under 18 from the knowledge of the family’s circumstances, those facts can also be considered.
• As we know from Commonwealth v. Henderson, 663 A.2d 728 (Pa. Super. 1995), a traffic stop for a secondary seatbelt violation is not authorized, so some evidence that the driver is under 18 and subject to a primary violation is essential prior to the stop.


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