While the numbers have been decreasing for several decades, motor-vehicle crashes remain the top cause of death for teens and young adults.
In 2010, accidents killed about 2,700 people between the ages of 16 and 19, more than seven per day, and resulted in nearly 282,000 injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drivers in that same age group are said to be three times more likely than older drivers to be involved in a fatal crash.
Deaths among 16- and 17-year-old drivers have dropped significantly since states, including Ohio, began implementing graduated driver licensing systems in the mid-1990s. In 1995, 508 16-year-olds died in crashes, compared to 158 in 2010. Similar declines have been noted among 17-year-olds.
Ohio now requires those under the age of 18 to take 24 hours of driver training classes and spend eight hours behind the wheel before they can take their driver test. However, those who wait until they are 18 or older can take the test without any formal training.
That should change. Lawmakers are now considering a bill that would require those who are 18, 19 and 20 to also complete driver ed before taking the license test.
That would be a logical extension of the state’s graduated driver licensing rules, considering that age group, while more mature, may still lack experience behind the wheel. Those 18 to 20 are also part of a high-risk group affected by distractions due to frequent use of cellphones and other devices.
While training may be a burden to some young adults, ensuring all drivers have a grasp of traffic laws and basic driving skills is critical, not just for them, but for others on the road.
Certainly, the requirement for driving instruction shouldn’t end at the age of 17.
House Bill 204 would also make several rule adjustments regarding 16- and 17-year drivers. It would require any young driver ticketed for a moving violation to be accompanied by a parent or guardian while driving for six months afterward, and would prohibit non-family members younger than 21 from riding with anyone who has had his license for less than a year.
It would also ban young drivers from being on the road between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless a parent or guardian is riding. There would be exceptions made for school and work.
Such rule changes would not likely be popular among young drivers and some parents. But efforts must continue to reduce teen crashes.
Several of the proposals have resulted from studies of accidents. For example, the night restrictions are being recommended, in part, because 40 percent of fatal crashes involving teens occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Other statistics show the likelihood of an accident increases as the number of young passengers in a vehicle rises.
The effort to update Ohio’s graduated driver licensing comes as preliminary statistics from 2011 indicate that the decline in teen driver crashes may have come to an end. Lawmakers shouldn’t hesitate to tweak teen driver rules with one goal in mind: to save as many lives as possible.
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