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HELENA - Gov. Judy Martz, calling it an unnecessary burden on car-dependent Montana families, has vetoed a bill that would put new restrictions on young drivers.

In her veto message, Martz said she endorses the idea of trying to make new drivers more safe, but does not believe toughening requirements for teen-agers to get a restricted driver's license is the most effective means.

"Given the rural character of our state and the high premium that character places on the mobility needs of Montana families, I do not believe the presumed safety objectives behind the bill outweigh the burdens that it will impose on those families," the Republican said.

Martz specifically objected to provisions in House Bill 403 that require youths under 18 to hold a special permit for six months in order to get a restricted driver's license. The permits would require a teen-ager to be accompanied by a licensed driver, parent or guardian, or driving instructor when behind the wheel during the time.

House Minority Leader Kim Gillan, a Billings Democrat and chief sponsor of the bill, called Martz's reasoning "almost absurd."

"I really question whether six months is too high a threshold to ensure development of adequate driving skills," she said Wednesday. "I'm offended that no one from the governor's office contacted me before vetoing this bill, because I think there's some misunderstanding of this bill."

The measure passed both the House and Senate with bipartisan support. However, legislators cannot be polled whether they wish to override the governor's veto because the measure fell shy of the getting support from a full two-thirds of those voting.

In addition to the new six-month permit requirement, the measure imposed restrictions on a teen's driving for another 12 months. A young driver could not have more than three unrelated passengers and would be barred from driving between midnight and 5 a.m., except for limited reasons.

Under current law, a teen-ager can get an unrestricted driver's license at 15 after taking a driver education class. A 16-year-old can get a license without having to take the class.

Supporters promoted the bill as a matter of safety, noting that traffic crashes are the No. 1 cause of teen deaths in Montana.

Critics said the measure went too far in limiting the freedom of youth and interfering in family decisions.

Martz echoed that view, saying the state should not "impose unnecessary burdens on responsible Montana parents and young people."

Gillan said her bill is not as onerous as the governor claims. It does not raise the age for getting a license and allows exemptions from the new restrictions in hardship cases, she said.

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