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Bid to Increase Student Carpooling Hits a Roadblock in Legislature

Matthew Hersh

An attempt by area legislators to change the driving law to allow minors with provisional driver's licences to travel with more than one minor was met with resistance as their case was presented to the Assembly Transportation Committee in Trenton on Monday.

Introduced in February and sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton Borough) and Assemblywomen Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Trenton), the amendment would allow a student with a provisional license to travel with more than one minor in the car while driving to or returning from school. Additionally, the bill would prohibit drivers under 21 with restricted licenses to drive between midnight and 5 a.m. except in the event of an emergency.

Princeton legislators argued the measure would enhance carpooling, thus ameliorating clogged parking conditions at schools like Princeton High.

When presented before the state Transportation Committee Monday morning, however, the proposed bill received criticism from the committee, and representatives from the state's Motor Vehicle Commission and AAA.

"We have real concerns about this issue," said Janet Dunnigan of MVC. "We know that when teenagers are in the car, they have distractions from other passengers, and they don't always pay attention to the task they should be, which is driving."

She cited a recent study by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety finding that 27 percent of accidents involving drivers between the ages of 17 and 19 were caused by cars with three or more occupants.

But Mr. Gusciora said the carpooling amendment to the driving law would put fewer cars on the road in school neighborhoods, possibly reducing the number of accidents among teenagers.

"This bill really just enables students to carpool to school and back," he said. He pointed out that the amendment would not include social activities like the prom. "I think this would actually complement the graduated student driver's license."

Wendy Benchley, the Borough councilwoman who worked with the ad hoc committee on student parking at Princeton High School, said the bill would cover more than PHS traffic. "Older suburban communities have a lot of trouble coping with the number of cars coming in and the number of cars that high school students drive. I think this [bill] would be helpful to older, student towns, and carpooling is one of the helpful tools to address parking problems."

"Students will be given the freedom to travel to school on their own terms," said Vincent Giacalone, a PHS senior and student council president. Mr. Giacalone was also part of the effort to improve parking conditions at the high school.

But Assemblyman Joseph Malone (R-Bordentown), who sponsored the original graduated license bill, suggested that amending the bill is a "prescription for death."

Mr. Gusciora, who supported Mr. Malone's graduated licence bill, said he would table the amendment while he looked at studies on the safety of student drivers in high-occupancy vehicles.

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