Over the next two weeks, students across Warren County will be loading up their backpacks and returning to the classroom.
The transition from summer break to the academic year's more scholarly pursuits brings with it myriad considerations, including an increase in youth driving.
Whether it's commuting to and from classes, venturing out for extra-curricular events or just hanging out with friends outside the classroom, area law enforcement officials say there are some things younger drivers should keep in mind on the road.
Photo by Jacob Perryman
In anticipation of the coming school year, state police want young adults like Jake Papalia (shown) to be aware of recent driving laws affecting them.
For instance, last October state lawmakers passed Act 81, which changed the rules for drivers under the age of 18.
Under Act 81, drivers holding a junior license are limited in the number of passengers under 18 who can be in a vehicle they operate. For the first six months they hold their license, they are limited to one passenger under 18. Following the first six months, the law allows up to three. Should the driver be involved in an accident which is ruled to be partially or completely their fault, the number drops back to one.
The stipulations do not apply if a parent or legal guardian is accompanying them. The law also does not apply to immediate family members under 18, specified as brothers, sisters, stepbrothers and sister and adopted or foster children residing in the same household as the driver.
Act 81 also adjusted the laws regarding seatbelt use.
Seatbelt use has been mandatory in Pennsylvania for nearly three decades, but not wearing the devices was only a primary offense, or one a driver could be stopped for on its own, when children under four weren't secured properly in a child passenger seat. Under Act 81, a driver can be stopped for no other reason if anyone under 18 fails to wear a seatbelt.
"Warren County law enforcement will be enforcing this law to the full extent," according to a Warren-based state police press release on Wednesday. "When conducting traffic stops, troopers and other police officers may require the passengers to identify themselves to determine whether an Act 81 violation has occurred. Officers may conduct a stop if he/she observes an unbelted driver or passenger in a car full of youths who appear to be high school age."
"If you're under the age of 18, you need to have your seatbelt on," State Police Trooper Jen Bovee said. "As the school year approaches, we're going to be focusing on this law to try to make the public more aware of it. It's a primary violation now, so you can be cited just for it."
The statement also noted that vehicle crashes are the number one cause of teen deaths nationwide.
Junior drivers are also restricted under Act 81 in the matter of when they can drive. Unless traveling for employment, volunteer fire service or public or charitable service, a junior driver can only operate a vehicle between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. unless accompanied by a parent, guardian or a person operating in loco parentis for an organization. Drivers operating a vehicle under any of the allowable activities must carry an affidavit or certificate of authorization signed by their fire chief, supervisor or employer.
Act 81 stipulates that, in addition to any other legal penalties, drivers who violate the act or are involved in an accident ruled partially or fully their fault may have their driving privileges suspended until they are 18 or for a period of up to 90 days.
Under another recently enacted law, Act 98 which was signed in March, usage of an "interactive wireless communication device" is prohibited while driving in Pennsylvania. According to Act 98, such devices include wireless telephones, personal digital assistants, smart phones, portable or mobile computers "or similar devices which can be used for voice communication, texting, e-mailing, browsing the internet or instant messaging." Under the law, anyone who, "sends, reads or writes a text-based communication while the vehicle is in motion," is subject to a fine and possible seizure of the device being used.
"They shouldn't be doing anything to distract them from driving like texting, having the music too loud or having too many people in the car," Bovee said of teen drivers.
A separate state police statement on Wednesday serves as a reminder to all drivers concerning the state's "Move Over Law". Under Act 113 of 2006, a driver traveling through an area where an emergency response, such as an accident, traffic stop or vehicle checkpoint, must move to the furthest lane possible from an emergency when driving past. The law only applies if the emergency vehicle is running its visual signals, such as flashing lights.
"Please be aware, law enforcement officers are cracking down on this law in an effort to save lives of police officers," the release warns.
Violation of the law can result in a fine of up to $250 and a 90-day suspension of operating privileges.
"If you see emergency lights, you need to move over as far as possible," Bovee said.