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July 24, 2001

Ryan Signs Heather's Law

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. George H. Ryan today signed legislation into law to prevent minors from being issued a driver's license or renewing an instructional permit while criminal charges are pending against them. House Bill 2161, known as "Heather's Law," was passed in response to the tragic death of a Springfield teen last summer who was killed in a one-car accident with an unlicensed, teen-aged driver who, after the accident, still received his driver's license.

"With the signing of this bill, we will be able to make certain that young drivers understand the ramifications of their actions and are fully qualified to be licensed to drive before the license or permit is issued," Gov. Ryan said.

Effective immediately, the State's Attorney must notify the Secretary of State's Office of criminal charges filed against any person younger than 18 who was driving in an accident that resulted in a person's death or serious injury. The law authorizes the Secretary of State's office to deny a driver's license or permit to anyone who faces such criminal charges.

On August 6, 2000, fourteen-year-old Heather Rae Sandstrom was killed in a one-car accident in rural Rochester that took place only days before her 15th birthday and the start of her sophomore year at Southeast High School. Heather was a passenger in a car driven by a 15 year-old boy who only possessed an Illinois instructional permit. The permit stipulated that a parent, guardian, or other person over 21 be in the car with him while he drove. While speeding at an estimated 98 miles-per-hour, the car left the road and hit a guardrail before careening into several trees. The unlicensed driver was subsequently charged with reckless homicide.

In early November, 2000, while the charges were still pending, the driver turned 16 and went to the Secretary of State's Office where he was issued a driver's license.

In June, 2001, a judge found the youth guilty of reckless homicide and reckless driving, and ordered him to give up the license, and not attempt to obtain another one until he turns 21.

"This law won't change the circumstances of Heather's tragedy. But I hope it is some comfort to her family, knowing that her life has helped bring about a change. Drivers who are not ready for the responsibility that comes with driving will not be allowed on the road," Gov. Ryan said.

HB 2161 was sponsored by Representatives Gwenn Klingler, R-Springfield; Ron Stephens, R-Troy; Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro; Terry Parke, R-Hoffman Estates; David Leitch, R-Peoria; and Senators Vince Demuzio, D-Carlinville; Frank Watson, R-Greenville; and Larry Bomke, R-Springfield.


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