Pubdate: Sun, 13 Feb 2005
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Copyright: 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Author: Kevin McDermott, Post-Dispatch Springfield Bureau
Cited: Illinois General Assembly
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Drug Test)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Youth)


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - A state legislator wants to require all Illinois high 
school students to take drug tests before they could get their drivers 
permits, a move he believes could keep teens off methamphetamine by 
threatening what's most dear to them.

It's part of a growing list of bills in Springfield this year that would 
tighten restrictions on young drivers, who are responsible for a 
disproportionate number of the nation's highway accidents. Other pending 
bills in Illinois would add new restrictions and requirements on young 
drivers in terms of drivers' education fees, seat belts, cell phones and 
even car purchases.

State Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville, says a universal drug test for anyone 
under 18 applying for a drivers permit would give teenagers a 
"peer-acceptable" reason to turn down highly addictive methamphetamine and 
other drugs at an age when addiction often starts.

"There's a real methamphetamine problem in rural Illinois . . . at that age 
when they're getting their learners permits," said Eddy, who is also a 
school superintendent in a rural area near the Indiana border. "This (could 
provide) a reason to give to counter the pressure - 'No, I want to be able 
to get my permit.'"

Critics say the idea could be another infringement on teenagers' rights, an 
already-murky area of law.

"We have some concerns in general about drug testing and targeting young 
people," said Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union in Chicago. 
The ACLU is still studying the bill and hasn't yet taken a formal position 
on it, but Yohnka said the group does have a continuing concern with 
legislation that "sends young people the message that they're always suspects."

"This sort of singling out of people by age, and suggesting they should 
have lesser legal protections than other people, is already happening in 
other areas," Yohnka said.

Eddy's bill would make the students themselves responsible for the cost of 
the drug tests, which can range from $10 to $40 each. Other details - such 
as what kinds of tests are to be used, and whether they should be 
coordinated within the schools or if the students have to secure test on 
their own - would be determined by State Board of Education.

Eddy, who is the only school superintendent in the Legislature, said he 
realizes the bill is "controversial," even among legislators, which could 
hurt its chances of getting through the legislative system. The bill is 
currently awaiting a House committee vote.

"There are a lot of people who don't want to vote on this," Eddy said.

Amanda Clessa, a freshman at Metro East Lutheran High School in 
Edwardsville, said she thinks many students would think twice about using 
drugs if they knew their permits would be in jeopardy.

"Everyone looks forward to getting their license, it's such a big deal," 
she said. "When you get your permit, that means new freedom, so maybe doing 
that would be an incentive to be more responsible."

Alton High School Principal Philip Trapani said testing for drugs before 
giving out a driving permit makes sense. "I like the idea," he said.

But he said he wouldn't want it to become another unfunded mandate from the 
state. Schools often must pick up the costs for programs that low-income 
students can't afford, and Trapani said he wouldn't be surprised if the 
school ended up bearing the brunt of the cost.

It isn't unusual for a crop of new legislation to focus each year on young 
drivers - a situation young drivers bring on themselves. Statistically, new 
drivers are by far the most dangerous on the road.

"Those two or three years are the most critical in terms of involvement (in 
accidents)," said Mike Right of the AAA Motor Club in St. Louis. He said 
young drivers "are overrepresented in all categories of traffic accidents."

"Given that their eyesight and reflexes are the best they're ever going to 
be, they should be the best drivers on the road. But they lack the maturity 
and they lack the experience - and unfortunately, there's only one way to 
get experience."

Among other new drivers license restrictions under consideration by 
Illinois legislators this year:

A House bill would prohibit drivers who are on learners permits from using 
cell phones while driving. The measure, HB21, has passed the House and is 
awaiting debate in the Senate.

A Senate bill would require 18-year-old passengers to wear seat belts in 
cars in which the driver is under 18. Currently, passengers 17 and younger 
must wear seat belts in such circumstances. The measure, SB229, is awaiting 
a committee vote.

A House bill would require parental consent before anyone under 18 could 
buy a car. The bill, HB38, would change state law to require that car title 
applications include the buyer's age. The measure is awaiting a committee vote.
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