Indiana’s new curfew law withstood a constitutionality test in recent weeks, allowing police officers to enforce Indiana’s graduated driver’s license (GDL) law and protect teen-agers’ safety during the hours when they are most vulnerable.
John Hammond III, Indiana local counsel for the National Association of Independent Insurers (NAII), commented that the new curfew law gives police the power to enforce compliance with the state’s GDL law during the late night and early morning hours, which has statistically proven to be the deadliest time of day for teen drivers. NAII is a member of the Indiana Citizens for Safe Teen Driving that spearheaded the new curfew law, which took effect May 1.
U.S. District Judge John D. Tinder turned down the Indiana Civil Liberties Union’s request to suspend enforcement of the state’s recently enacted curfew law until its lawsuit against the curfew is resolved. By upholding the state’s curfew law, the court also clarified the provisions of another crucial teen safety law, the GDL, which phases in teen-agers’ driving privileges, Hammond said.
Hammond stated that the nighttime driving curfew was incorporated into the GDL law because it saves lives, adding that the NAII and the Indiana Citizens for Safe Teen Driving coalition want to keep inexperienced drivers from getting behind the wheel without proper restrictions and supervision. Hammond commented that the GDL system with the nighttime driving restrictions, limits the time teens spend in high-risk situations behind the wheel.
Tinder struck down the curfew law in July 2000 because he found it overly broad and an infringement on children’s First Amendment rights. By doing so, the judge inadvertently overturned nighttime restrictions in the state’s GDL law. The GDL law directly cites the curfew law restrictions in its language-which allows law enforcement officers to stop teens who are driving after curfew hours for probable cause and cite them for violating the GDL. However, the court failed to address the application of the curfew sanctions under the GDL law, which jeopardized the most important piece of the driving law-keeping teens off the roads when the most fatal accidents involving teens occur.
The amendments to the curfew law this year did not change the hours youths under 18 are prohibited from being in a public place.
Under the curfew law, teens ages 15-17 are prohibited from being in a public place after 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday or before 5 a.m. Monday through Friday, or between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. According to the GDL law, teens may not drive unsupervised during the curfew hours. Like the curfew law, exceptions are made for school, church or employment-related activities.
Tinder most likely warmed up to the new curfew law because of amendments added to the law during the 2001 legislative session, Hammond said, which recognize teen’s constitutional rights. The amendments provide a new affirmative defense to a curfew violation if a child was engaged in an activity protected by federal or state law, including freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the right of assembly.
Indiana ranked 17th in the nation in 1998 for teen driver deaths in motor vehicle accidents. Indiana’s GDL law became effective January 1999. While the lives saved under Indiana’s GDL law have not yet been tallied, effectively enforced GDL systems in other states-such as California and Florida-have proven to reduce teen accidents and fatalities by more than 20 percent.