Laws for teen drivers may toughen

Joanne Bello

Most teens cannot wait to get behind the wheel. Driving comes with freedom and responsibility that young adults crave.

In Ohio, the current law allows teens to obtain their learner’s permit at the age of 15 and a half. They have to complete six months of driving time before they are allowed to get their driver’s license. They must also have an adult who is at least 21 years old present at all times.

Young drivers must also comply to the driving curfew which states that temporary permit holders under age 17 cannot operate a vehicle between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. unless accompanied by an eligible adult.

House Bill 343 has been introduced to the Ohio House of Representatives that would change the current law for obtaining a learner’s permit and an intermediate license.

The bill would increase the minimum age for obtaining a learner’s permit from 15 and a half to 16 and would increase the age to obtain an intermediate license from 16 to 16 and a half. It would also restrict the number of non-family member passengers they can have in the car to one.

Ohio State Rep. Tom Raga from District 67, is sponsoring the bill which is currently in review with the House committee.

Raga has been working with the Ohio Teen Driver Coalition for about a year and half to try and form safer teen driving legislation.

The Ohio Teen Driver Coalition was formed by different groups from around the state such as the Ohio Conference of AAA Clubs, Akron Children’s Hospital, MADD Ohio Chapter, Ohio State Highway Patrol, the University Hospitals of Cleveland and others.

“There is a certain responsibility that comes with driving,” Jennifer Seidel, senior legislative aide to Rep. Raga, said. “The younger they are, the more irresponsible they are.”

Although Seidel said she knows not all young drivers are irresponsible, she said she knows that many teens out there are.

The city of Kent’s representative, Kathleen Chandler, said she feels the bill is being formed just for those drivers who are less careful, and that it is limiting to those who aren’t.

“I’m not thinking too highly of the bill right now,” Chandler said, “because it is too restrictive. Some young people are very responsible drivers, and they are being punished for other driver’s mistakes.”

According to a report done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1991 to 2004, 1,073 teen drivers had been killed in crashes. Of those crash fatalities, 777 teens were killed on rural roads and 259 were killed on urban roads. Two out of five deaths among teens in the United States are because of motor vehicle crashes, according to the Ohio Teen Driver Coalition.

Seidel said most of the teen crashes in Raga’s district occur because the driver was preoccupied by friends or things such as the radio or cell phones.

“If I were persuaded that the bill would save lives, I would vote on it,” Chandler said.

Steve Reinhard, chair of Ohio’s Transportation, Public Safety and Homeland Security Council, said the bill is still being discussed so the representatives from rural districts can discuss the bill with their constituents.

“There is more carpooling in the rural areas,” Reinhard said. “If you were the kid who drove to school and picked up a few of your friends on the way, the bill wouldn’t allow you to do that anymore. Some may feel like this is an infringement on their rights.”

Chandler recently proposed a new bill that would require seat belts to be worn at all times by all passengers in a car, not just when a teen is behind the wheel. Now only the driver and front passenger are required to wear a seat belt, unless the driver is underage.

Chandler said research has shown if adults buckle up, then children are 80 percent more likely to buckle up. But if the adult doesn’t buckle up, then the child is only 20 percent likely to buckle.

Teen drivers may have to wait a little longer to obtain their learner’s permit and intermediate driver’s license, but law makers said they feel that at least they will be safer.

Contact public affairs reporter Joanne Bello at [email protected].