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Teen drivers in R.I. told of limits on passengers

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- The state Division of Motor Vehicles is sending out letters this weekend to 11,000 new teenage drivers in Rhode Island alerting them to a law that limits the number of young passengers who can ride with them.

There had been no restrictions on the number of passengers younger than 21 who could accompany a 16- or 17-year-old driver with a provisional license. But the General Assembly passed legislation this summer limiting the number to one.

The legislation passed into law without the governor's signature.

The rule excludes family members.

Under the law, a provisional license holder found with more than one passenger younger than 21 will be charged with a moving violation and will be fined. The provisional license lasts a year, but any moving violations in that time would reset the period.

The data have found that the risk of accidents among 16- and 17-year-old drivers increases with each additional passenger. Traffic and distractions, such as cellphones and compact disc players, also increase risks, supporters say.

''For those who believe it's a rite of passage, it's not the same," said Janis Loiselle, administrator at the state Office on Highway Safety. ''The whole environment of driving is different."

According to the National Safety Council, one teenage passenger raises the risk of accidents for 16- and 17-year-old drivers by about 50 percent.

With three or more people in the car, the risk rises almost four times as high.

Some teenagers aren't happy with the change.

''I think it kind of kills getting a license," said David Piccirilli, 15. ''When you think about having a license, you think of taking all your friends out and driving around, and having some privacy."

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