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New laws aim to curb teen driving

Teen drivers may want to be more cautious in Minnesota starting today -- the day that law changes targeted at youths take effect.

That means no text-messaging or using cell phones when driving, and no late-night cruising for first-time license holders. And passenger lists need to be kept short.

The aim: to cut down on statistics showing young people are more apt to get hurt driving at night or while riding with a young driver.

Red Wing police Chief Tim Sletten said he supports the changes, which could reduce fatalities. If that means keeping a limit on when teens can drive, so be it, he said.

"These laws are a good start in limiting the driving of teens during the times that we're finding there are an increase in accidents for that age group," Sletten said.

He added that limiting the number of peer passengers - another law going into effect today - should allow teen drivers to pay greater attention to their driving.

"I really agree with the new changes," said Moorhead police Lt. Joel Scharf.

It is critical for parents to discuss the changes with their children and hold them accountable, he said. Scharf said text-messaging has been a factor in a number of serious traffic incidents in Moorhead.

"Unfortunately," he added, "it's very difficult to prove."

Starting today, officers may cite drivers younger than 18 if they're seen using cell phones or text-messaging, as long as it is in connection with a more serious violation, such as failing to signal.

Adults, too, may be cited if they text-message while driving.

Lt. Mike Hanson, a Minnesota State Patrol trooper and father of two teens, also approves of the new rules.

"I endorse the changes, not only based on my experience as a trooper, but as a parent," Hanson said.

"Distracted driving, driving too fast -- all those things are bad enough. But throw in a teen driver, they just compound and it becomes a huge problem," he said.