DRIVING REGULATION Unnecessary roadblock?
One teenager said the federal proposal just wouldn't be fair.
By TRACEY D'ASTOLFO
Is it the end of the road for the joyride?
Area teens feel current regulations for young novice drivers are just about right, according to a Vindicator survey, but a federal proposal would limit the number of teen passengers to one.
Last month the National Transportation Safety Board recommended more stringent teen driving restrictions. It cited statistics showing that the seven states that adopted the tougher standards had the biggest drop in teen traffic fatalities.
Thirty-six states -- including Ohio and Pennsylvania -- and the District of Columbia adopted recommendations made by the NTSB in 1993. These include a three-stage graduated driver license (GDL) system, nighttime driving restrictions and more classroom instruction.
Of the current recommendations, the one that would affect Ohio and Pennsylvania teens the most restricts young novices from carrying more than one passenger under age 20, unless the driver is accompanied by an adult at least age 21. This would be in effect for six months or until the driver receives an unrestricted license, whichever is longer.
You must be at least 18 in Ohio and at least 17 1/2 in Pennsylvania to receive an unrestricted license.
The agency based its recommendation on studies that show that the presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of teen drivers, and that the risk increases as the number of passengers increases.
In Ohio and Pennsylvania, the number of passengers may not exceed the number of seat belts in the car for drivers under 18.
Several area teens feel the one-passenger restriction is asking too much.
"I don't like that. That just doesn't seem right," said Amanda Burrell, 16, of Farrell. "I mean, if they limit the number of people to the number of seat belts in the car, I can understand that's a safety thing, but it's not fair to say just one other teen can be in the car with a teen driver."
Samantha Headley, 16, of Struthers, agrees. "I take four people to school in the morning -- they all need rides, and they all wear seat belts. I can see not going over the number of seat belts in the car. That's one of my things -- everyone has to wear their seat belt."
Emily Kempe, 15, suggested a negative effect the law might create .
"You figure teens usually travel to things together like dances or games, and that would mean more people would have to drive. It would be a bigger burden on everyone."
Although there is currently no legislation pending in either state to further restrict teen driving privileges, the possibility looms as officials strive to prevent teen traffic fatalities.
Statistics show that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds in the United States. Sgt. Robin Schmutz of the Ohio State Highway Patrol explained current efforts to reduce teen accidents.
"We see a lot of crashes involving teens. They're more easily distracted and less experienced on the road. We're really trying to get out there to the schools and educate them and make them realize the dangers they face and the need to focus on the road. I don't know if this is the answer, but it's one thing that we can do."
Nicole Modarelli, 16, a junior at Mooney High School, thinks a passenger restriction might be helpful.
"I think it's a good idea, the one person at a time thing. When there's a bunch of people in the car they just get talking, and it's harder to concentrate."
"That does happen, but it just doesn't seem fair," Burrell said. "I think if a cop sees a bunch of kids getting rowdy in a car he should be able to pull them over, but if they're just sitting in the car talking that should be OK."
Kempe, a sophomore at Girard High School, said teens need to use good judgment before getting in someone's car.
"It's just a matter of knowing who you can trust to drive responsibly. You know who you can trust and who it would be safe to drive with."
Stephen Purfey, 15, of Girard, said some teen drivers may not be responsible, but a blanket law restricting passengers wouldn't be fair.
"I don't think that's how it should be. I think it depends on what kind of driver you are. Some people are better drivers than others and know the road better. It just depends."
Samantha said her friends sometimes get loud when she's driving, but she lets them know when it's affecting her driving.
"We might turn the stereo up a little, but I pay attention to everything and tune out what my friends are doing around me. I tell my friends to quiet down if they're distracting me."
She continued: "I'm sure there are some teens who aren't mature enough to drive, but I think most are. Even guys I know who act immature at school are responsible when they drive."