Recent car crashes killing young people have left many in Ohio wondering what can be done to prevent future tragedies.
More than 14,000 16- and 17-year-olds were determined to be at fault in crashes around the state last year, according to Ohio State Highway Patrol statistics. Of those, 31 were at fault in fatal crashes.
State Rep. Rick Perales said a crash last year that left three Bellbrook teenagers dead pushed him to do something about it.
Perales, R-Beavercreek, has drafted legislation to amend the state’s graduated license program, which awards drivers younger than 18 with more privileges as they gain more experience. Perales’ bill would set an earlier curfew for new teen drivers and limit the number of non-family passengers to one adult older than 21.
Perales dismissed critics who say he’s injecting more government into what should be parents’ decisions.
“The roads are the common denominator,” Perales said. “It’s not just about them and their parenting skills. The roads are shared by everybody.”
The proposed changes would not make Ohio the toughest state in the nation, according to the data from the Governors Highway Safety Association. California prohibits any passengers during the first 12 months after a teen receives his or her license, and Connecticut limits passengers to parents or instructors only during the first six months and immediate family during the second six months.
“That’s the way professionals are trained — put them in a situation and get them through it,” Perales said.
The bill would lengthen Ohio’s curfew, prohibiting driving between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., except when traveling to and from work and school or with a parent or guardian. Current law prohibits teen driving from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Like existing law, the bill’s changes would enforced as a secondary offense that can be ticketed only after a primary offense, such as speeding, occurs. Teens found guilty of a moving violation would only be able to drive with a parent or guardian for the following six months or until they turn 18, whichever is shorter.
Fatal crashes in Ohio would decrease 20 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit best-known for its crash test ratings. The organization recommends states adopt more restrictions on nighttime driving and number of allowed passengers, require more practice hours and higher ages for permits and initial licensure to improve safety.
Ohio ranks No. 29 in the U.S. for highest rate of teen driving deaths from 2007-11, according to a study released this week from Erie Insurance.
Megan Euston, director of Erie’s SHIFT program to encourage good teen driving habits, said teen driving deaths are decreasing but still the leading cause of death among 16- to 19-year-olds.
“What Erie Insurance is doing is trying to raise awareness, teaching teens to make smart choices behind the wheel, and hopefully that will save lives in the long run,”Euston said. “These accidents are preventable because they can be prevented with good decisions and more experience.”
Nighttime teen driver crashes drop before midnight and 1 a.m., the current curfews for 16- and 17-year-olds, respectively, according to Ohio Department of Transportation data for 2007-2011. More than half of nighttime teen driver crashes during that time occurred between 9 and 11 p.m.
Perales said he’s heard from parents concerned about teens driving other to and from school, church and work, and he’s open to revising the bill as it moves through the legislative process. Lawmakers on the House Transportation Committee plan to discuss the bill Monday.
Sharon Fife, a past president of the Driving School of the Americas and owner of D&D Driving School in Kettering, welcomes efforts to remove distractions and reduce teen driving accidents. Fife said she and instructors tell parents they need to set the rules, but statistics support more legislation.
“[Teens] shouldn’t really have anybody in the car for the first six or so months,” Fife said. “Then if that went well, introduce things slowly. They tend to get this ‘I know how to drive’ attitude and a little overconfident and that’s when they get into trouble.”
Fact sheet: Car crashes kill male teens at a rate 3 times higher than females. Get more facts about teen driving at MyDaytonDailyNews.com