Driving with a Learner's Permit
-by Laura Pioch, Associate
in Maine -
The Restrictions and the Risks
Getting a learner’s permit is a pivotal moment in the lives of many young adults. It gives a new driver access to the wide-open road and establishes the beginning of what it feels like to be independent. But that’s just it – a learner’s permit provides a beginning step towards independence. In Maine, as in other states, there are still quite a few restrictions permittees must follow until they receive a full-fledged driver’s license.
Learner’s permit rules across the country are written with teen driving data in mind, to protect drivers and passengers at an age when stats show they don’t tend to protect themselves. Every year, roughly a third of deaths among 13 to 19-year-olds occur in motor vehicle crashes, 56% of teens said they talk on the phone while driving, and 16 and 17-year-old driver death rates increase with each additional passenger. And only 44% of teens said they would definitely speak up if someone were driving in a way that scared them (you can find more teen driving stats like this at CDC.gov).
And while a learner’s permit may be associated more with younger drivers, Maine permittees over the age of 18 are subject to certain restrictions, and vulnerable to many of the same risks. Just recently, 18-year-old Cheyenne Bryden was killed in a single-vehicle crash in Burnham, Maine, while riding in a vehicle driven by Shawn Judkins, who was also 18 years old. Judkins held a learner’s permit and was also driving with another passenger in the car, a 16-year-old male. There was no mention of a supervising driver being present in the vehicle as Judkins’s learner’s permit would have required. This incident has left authorities wondering if Judkins’s inexperience as a permittee driver might have led to this unfortunate crash.
What are the rules for learners’ permit holders in Maine?
Permittees ages 15-17
The standard rules for a young permittee might seem easy to recall. You have to be at least 15 years old to apply for a Maine learner’s permit, and if you are between the ages of 15 and 17, you must complete a driver’s ed course before applying for the permit. Once you obtain the permit, you must hold it for 6 months and then log a certain number of driving hours (70 hours of driving, 10 of which must be done after dark) before applying for a road test. While permittees only need to hold the learner’s permit for 6 months before applying for a road test, they must actually hold the permit for 270 days total before being eligible to receive a standard driver’s license.
A number of restrictions apply to these young permittees. One that might sound familiar is that the permittee must be accompanied by a supervising driver. This supervisor must be at least 20 years old, have held a valid license for at least 2 years, be licensed to operate the same class of vehicle operated by the permittee, and be occupying the seat beside the driving permittee. Additionally, permittees of this age bracket cannot operate a motor vehicle between the hours of midnight and 5am.
Another restriction that is easier to forget is that permittees under the age of 18 are restricted in the types of passengers they may have in the vehicle. Generally, a young permittee can only carry passengers who are “immediate family members” unless the permittee is accompanied by a supervising driver as described above. The category of “immediate family members” is fairly straight-forward: it includes grandparents, parents, spouses, children, and siblings, as well as any step-family member of those denominations. However, if the person lives with the immediate family of the permittee, foreign exchanges students and certain guardianships will also be considered immediate family members.
Motorcycle and moped permits also have unique restrictions. A permittee must be at least 16 years old to even apply for a learner’s permit, and the permittee is not allowed to carry any passengers.
If a permittee violates the provisions of the learner’s permit, it will result in the extension of these license restrictions and license suspension. Once they receive their driver’s license, these restrictions will go away. However, a conviction for any moving violation during their 2-year provisional license term will result in license suspension.
Permittees ages 18-20
Permittees between the ages of 18 and 20 have similar time requirements as the 15 to 17-year-old permittees: they must hold the permit for 6 months before applying for the road test and they must log the same number of driving hours. But these permittees are legal adults. Surely that must be where the similarities end, right?
While permittees ages 18-20 are free from the prohibition of driving between 12am-5am and are not required to take a driver education course, they are still required to have a supervisor in the car with them. And the first license obtained by an 18 to 20-year-old is also subject to a two-year provisional period.
Permittees ages 21 or older
Intuitively, permittees who are over the age of 21 have the fewest restrictions. They do not have to hold the permit for 6 months, they do not have to log driving hours, and they can take a road test immediately to obtain their driver’s license. However, the first license they obtain is still a provisional license for a period of one year; any conviction for a moving violation will result in license suspension.
Considerations for all ages
One common restriction across the board is that a person with a learner’s permit may not operate a motor vehicle while using a handheld electronic device. While you might assume that this means a permittee is prohibited from texting and driving, the term “using” is actually much more encompassing, prohibiting permittees from manipulating, talking into, or otherwise interacting with a handheld electronic device. Additionally, permittees won’t get a free pass for checking their devices while stopped by traffic, a traffic light, or a stop sign; they may only use their devices while pulled off the road and parked somewhere safely.
The driver with a learner’s permit isn’t the only one who’s restricted: passengers are too. As noted above, a permittee of certain ages is restricted from having non-immediate family member passengers unless accompanied by a supervisor. However, regardless of the age of the permittee, an intoxicated passenger could run into trouble if he or she chooses to ride in the vehicle of a driving permittee. In fact, Maine makes it a misdemeanor if a person accompanies a permittee who is operating a vehicle and that accompanying person has impaired mental or physical functioning as a result of the use of intoxicating liquor or drugs.
Regardless of the permittee’s age, the learning curve of operating a motor vehicle deserves an elevated level of caution and conscientiousness. And for teens, that begins with parents and other responsible adults enforcing the rules of the road. For strategies you can try with your young permittee, visit cdc.gov/parentsarethekey/.
If you or a loved one are seriously injured or killed as a result of an accident and want to discuss the possibility of pursuing a legal claim, or if you are an attorney looking to refer an injury or death case to someone with experience, please feel free to contact our personal injury and wrongful death attorney, Dan Stevens, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-430-3288. With over 25 years of experience, Dan is highly recognized among his peers and clients as a top auto accident lawyer in Maine, and he specializes in wrongful death cases.