First, let it be said that not all teenage drivers are irresponsible buffoons who believe that being behind a steering wheel gives them a right to jeopardize their own and others’ lives.
But, when more than 14,000 16- and 17-year-olds were responsible for automobile crashes in Ohio last year, adults cannot ignore the problem that exists. Thirty-one of those crashes involved fatalities.
A report released earlier this year by the Governors Highway Safety Association noted that fatal car crashes involving teens were higher during the first six months of 2012 than during the same period in 2011. A study released by Erie Insurance noted that Ohio ranked 29th in the U.S. for highest rate of teen-driving deaths from 2007 to 2011.
What should be done? If state Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, has his way, Ohio’s graduated license program, which rewards drivers under 18 as they become more experienced, would be amended to place restrictions on new teen drivers.
A bill drafted by Perales would limit the number of nonfamily passengers in a car driven by a teen to one adult older than 21. It would also change the curfew time from midnight to 10 p.m. Teens participating in work and school activities would be exempt from the new night rules.
The measure would also require backseat passengers to wear a safety belt and would bring uniformity rules for teens who commit a moving violation, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
“We’re not trying to make life more difficult, although in some instances I recognize it may be for parents,” Perales said. “We’re trying to reach a happy medium.”
Not surprisingly, many young drivers, and some parents, aren’t happy with what the state legislator is proposing.
“If you can’t go out with your friends, it’s kind of defeating the purpose,” 15-year-old Caitlyn Pitts of Gahanna said. “I think that some people will follow it, but for the most part, I don’t think anyone will really go along with that.”
Pitts told the Dispatch that when she gets her driver’s license she would want to be able to drive a friend home from soccer practice or to a movie.
As a new driver, the youngster’s focus should be on improving her driving skills and becoming familiar with the dangers inherent in being behind the wheel. The reason student drivers are taught defensive driving is that oftentimes it’s other drivers on the road who pose a danger.
“Teens, when they’re learning to drive, should be with parents or guardians, ideally,” said Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association. “As you increase the number of other teens in the car, the likelihood of a crash increases.”
According to the group, some research has shown that stronger graduated driver’s license laws can help reduce the number of crashes.
A 2010 study published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention found that strict licensing laws were associated with a 30-percent lower fatal crash rate among 15- to 17-year-olds compared with looser restrictions.
The insurance institute said Ohio could reduce fatal crashes among teen drivers by 39 percent if it adopted the agency’s best practices.
Without a doubt, the legislative hearing on Rep. Perales’ bill will attract many witnesses, as it should.
Young Ohioans and their adult supporters will argue that their rights are being violated. Organizations such as Ohio Teen Safe Driving Coalition will counter that the goal of reducing fatalities must override the desire of teen drivers to give their friends a lift.
In the end, the General Assembly must act in the best interest of Ohio’s residents.