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Albany poised to get tough on teen driving

   ALBANY -- Sometimes at the Capitol, it takes the realities of life to empower action. In the case of teen driving laws, advocates say it has taken the faces of more than 200 annual teen driving fatalities to do the job.

   But Albany, after years of inaction, seems to be moving on the issue of bolstering teen driving rules. The sponsors of a new Paterson administration bill said Tuesday they see nothing stopping passage of the effort to impose new restrictions on teen drivers.

   The bill would bring New York's rules up to the levels of many other states by restricting to one the number of teen passengers in a car driven by a teen, banning all portable electronic devices, ending plea bargains on moving violations, and adding training time for permit holders.

   "I do think it's a great idea," Diane Magle said of the bill. Her 17-year-old daughter, Katie, died in a 2005 crash in a car driven by a teenage friend. Magle said she especially likes the new bill's provision limiting the number of teen passengers to one; in her daughter's crash, three teen passengers were in the car.

   Magle said the bill should reduce teen driving fatalities.

   But she wishes lawmakers added one more provision: raising the driving age from 16 to 17.

   That would be difficult, especially in rural and even many suburban areas where parents and teens rely on the 16-year-old provision to get teens to places like after-school jobs.

   Whether Albany acts this year, despite the optimism of the measure's sponsors, is never certain.

   A year ago at this time, the momentum was there and sponsors were upbeat. But then, sources said, a couple downstate Republicans balked at the last minute over a provision requiring back-seat passengers to wear seat belts. One source said a GOP lawmaker was concerned about getting ticketed for not wearing a seat belt -- as he napped in the back while his driver took him between his Long Island district and Albany.

   -- Tom Precious

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