Saturday, April 16, 2005 - Bangor Daily News
AUGUSTA - As a coach, state Sen. Dennis Damon has met far too many young people who have mixed risky behavior and feelings of youthful invincibility with frequently tragic results. More often than not, excessive speed by inexperienced drivers is part of that deadly equation.
"There have been people from Mount Desert Island who have died," said the Trenton Democrat. "There was one who was particularly close to my heart, and it was simply, quite frankly, a case of thrill seeking and inexperience."
Today's high-tech teen generation is learning how to get around the rules of the road before they've even received their permanent driver's license, Damon said. He introduced LD 1129 on Thursday in an effort to remove one perceived layer of armor contributing to a teenage driver's sense of invulnerability: automobile radar detectors.
"Why should they have these things?" he told members of the Legislature's Transportation Committee. "They're designed to detect radar beams, and radar beams are designed to detect speeders. If they thought they didn't have that shield and face the potential of a court appearance, it might encourage them to drive as they should."
Damon said that in 2003, 63 drivers in Maine between ages 16 and 24 were involved in fatal crashes, and several involved radar detectors. Observing that Washington, D.C., and Virginia already have made possession of a radar detector by a motor vehicle operator illegal, Damon said his bill would simply address drivers 18 or younger with intermediate operator's licenses.
Sarah Wilson of Southwest Harbor told the committee she is a mother of two and has worked as a licensed emergency medical technician who was alerted to the fact that one of her teenage son's friends was using a radar detector. She said she was shocked to learn there was nothing illegal about it.
"From my experience in emergency medicine, I've seen things that probably a lot of people have not seen," she said. "A lot of people have felt the pain of losing a child in an auto accident, but not many have seen the graphic details when those deaths happen. I've spoken with a friend who lost a son in an automobile accident, and she told me we should do anything we can do to keep kids safe until they're mature enough to make better decisions. This bill would help us get kids to that point and not be encouraged to speed with these dangerous electronic devices."
Robert O'Connell, the director of driver's license services at the state Department of Motor Vehicles, took no position on the bill, and said Secretary of State Matt Dunlap would be willing to work with the committee on the bill. He suggested the panel also might want to pair its proposed radar detector restriction with the use of a cell phone by the holder of an intermediate driver's license, a restriction already discussed by the panel in separate legislation.
There were no opponents to the bill, which will be reviewed further on April 26.