Law restricts teen drivers



A safety official officials says distraction plays a role in after-school crashes.
By SARAH POULTON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- An American Automobile Association study in October showed that teenage drivers were almost as likely to have a fender-bender or fatal crash during the busy, high-stressed after-school hours as they are late at night or early in the morning.
The automobile association's analysis showed nearly as many 16- and 17-year-old drivers were involved in fatal crashes during after-school hours as on weekend evenings. The study showed that parents of new drivers need to be just as focused on monitoring their teens' driving from 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays as they do between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Now, parents will no longer be pacing back and forth across their living rooms waiting for their 16-year-old to arrive home during early hours. They can also breathe a sigh of relief during commuting hours because their young drivers may be a bit less distracted.
On Jan. 4, Gov. Bob Taft signed off on Ohio Substitute House Bill 343, which will add a passenger limitation and increase the night-time driving limits for teen drivers.
The bill states that 16-year-old drivers will be limited to no more than one passenger, with exceptions being made for family members and emergency situations; 16-year-olds will be restricted from driving between midnight and 6 a.m., with the exception of work and a note from an employer; and all children ages 4 to 15 must be restrained in either an approved child-restraint system or in a seat belt. A date for this bill to take effect could not be found.
Other figures
Brian Newbacher, director of public affairs for AAA East Central said between 2002 and 2005, the totals for fatal crashes were 1,100 on weekdays and 1,237 on weekends. He said the high number of weekday fatal accidents may be because there are an increased number of teen drivers on the roads or because the parents aren't in the car supervising them.
"Many after-school teen trips -- driving to part-time jobs and home from sports and other activities -- are appropriate as teen drivers gain experience," Newbacher said. "Yet during these unrestricted hours between the end of school and when parents get home from work, many teens do dangerous things behind the wheel in cars loaded with passengers."
Newbacher added that with increased traffic on the road, driving is more difficult for teens and it is easier to make mistakes.
Larry Kingston, executive director of the National Safety Council Northern Ohio Chapter, said that according to statistics provided by the NSC, there is a general trend of fatal crashes between noon and 8 p.m. and that about 41 percent of fatal crashes encompassing all drivers happen between those times.
Here's the problem
"It just goes back to the fact that we all know kids come out of high school parking lots, and they're fired up," Kingston said. "They want to get out of there, and they're distracted."
Kingston said he suspects that distraction plays a huge role in after-school crashes. He agreed that one of the major problems for young drivers is that a lot of times they are driving with too many passengers or talking on cell phones.
Sgt. John Altman, an eight-year veteran of the Ohio State Highway Patrol's Canfield post, said in 2006 there were 17 fatal crashes in Mahoning County with 19 deaths. Of the 17 accidents, five involved drivers under age 20, and none of them fell into either time bracket, he said.
The OSHP handles accidents that happen outside municipalities, he said. Although the time frames didn't match, he sees more teen accidents every year, he added.
"I don't necessarily think that Mahoning County represents AAA's study," Altman said. "From experience, I'd say we have had an increase in accidents involving teen drivers."
spoulton@vindy.com

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