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Under the Wire

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

What a difference a day can make.

For Michael Leyden, 16, that single day marked the distinction between the right to drive or the need to be driven. So the lanky teenager joined the hordes Tuesday at area offices of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

With his legs curled under him on the floor of the Canoga Park branch, Leyden waited with his fellow teenagers in a long line for a single goal: To escape the new graduated teenage license law that goes into effect today.

The new law, passed by the Legislature last year, restricts the hours California teenagers can drive and strictly limits the passengers they can transport. New teenage drivers will not be allowed to have passengers under the age of 20 for six months or be on the road between midnight and 5 a.m. for a full year.

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The Teenage Driver Safety Act of 1997 also nearly doubles the hours of supervised driving that teenagers need before getting a provisional license.

Although the change has been a long time coming, DMV offices were mobbed Monday and Tuesday by teenagers trying to beat the clock. At the Arleta office, Roxie Walker, who administers the written exam, called the place a madhouse.

For many teenagers who turned 15 before July 1, the new law could and would be avoided.

“Man, if I had forgotten about this new law, I would have woke up tomorrow and said, ‘I’m a loser,’ ” said Emie Latcha, 16, at the Hollywood office. “I’m trying to get away from that law. It’s unfair.”

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Henry Davis, 16, took the test to get his name in the system. Under the law, teenagers were required to take the provisional exam by the deadline, but did not need to pass it. This was a good thing for Davis, who got 17 out of 46 questions wrong, well beyond the limit of five incorrect answers.

The Sylmar teenager said he wasn’t sweating the results.

“I’ve got two more chances,” said Davis confidently. “The law don’t affect me now.”

Although his mother, Jackie Calloway, believes it may do some good, she said the new law would be a burden on her, adding that she was tired of being Henry’s chauffeur.

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“I think the law is OK. It should prevent more accidents with teens,” she said. “But I still didn’t want it to affect us.”

Many parents said they were conflicted about taking their children into DMV offices before the deadline.

Kapp Johnson of Granada Hills said it was entirely his daughter’s desire to slip under the wire. Carmelle, 15, might be avoiding the new state law, the Lutheran minister said, but would still have to live under house rules.

“She’ll still basically have a graduated license,” said Johnson. “Because most of what they require are our rules at our home anyway.”

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But some parents have found making the rules are easier than enforcing them.

Elan Eifer, 16, got his learner’s permit more than a year ago, but he experienced his parents’ wrath when they discovered he’d been driving without a license.

“Life was good,” he said wistfully, until his parents found out, took away the car and let his permit expire.

Now, with the new law closing in, Elan decided it was time to act, arriving at the Hollywood DMV office on his skateboard.

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For others, though, the push to get the old license was troubling. Irene Madrid, the manager of the Canoga Park DMV office, has an 18-year-old niece who was critically injured in a car accident last year when she turned her car into an oncoming vehicle.

Anticipating the last furious rush before the doors closed at 5 p.m., Madrid said she couldn’t help thinking about her niece.

“She made a mistake, the kind you make when you don’t have much experience on the road,” said Madrid.

“If I was these parents, I don’t think I’d be here today. I think I’d wait for the new law.”

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