Non-starter

State proposes changes to teen driving code

By Sarah Sidlow

What do pimples, teenage heart break, and bad haircuts all have in common? Like Rumspringa, Quinceneras, and the bullet ant initiation of the Brazilian Amazon, they are rites of passage.

But for Ohio teens, one important American ritual of adulthood may soon change.

Legislation on the table at the Ohio statehouse recommends changing the age for a person to get their first license from 16 to 16-and-a-half. BFD.

And there are other changes proposed in the legislation, which is supported by police as well as insurance and public health groups. House Bill 293 also suggests lengthening the temporary instruction permit phase from six to 12 months, prohibiting newly licensed teens from driving without parental supervision between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., and setting a $5 application fee for driver’s license or renewal for anyone under 21. Some of the policies that remain the same include the requirement of taking a driver’s education course—a requirement that is waived if the new driver is over the age of 18.

This isn’t the first time Ohio has flirted with changing the laws for new drivers. A series of tightening restrictions have been handed down in the last two decades, including a recent ban on using cell phones and a limit of one non-family passenger when driving without parental supervision for any driver under 18.

What’s the reasoning behind the latest shift? Ohio Representative Gary Scherer (R), the bill’s sponsor, claims it’s because teen drivers have just a little more growing up to do.

For starters, he cites data that indicate 75 percent of teen crashes occur between 9 p.m. and midnight. Plus, by lengthening the permit phase to a full year, the state ensures every new driver has a chance to practice in all weather conditions. Hello, donuts!

But there’s opposition on all sides of this one—some arguing the legislation only takes baby steps toward solving a serious and dangerous problem; others arguing that it goes too far.

For some, this is a classic example of punishing an entire population because of the actions of a few bad apples. Lots of teens are responsible, have jobs, take care of their families, and would never hurt another person on the road, they argue.

Others argue that if the state government continues to parent in this regard, teens miss out on the important life lessons that come with having adult responsibilities.

Still others argue that age is just a number, and that bad drivers come in all forms.

So what is the best age for someone to obtain a driver’s license?

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.


Keeping everyone safe

Longer wait means safer streets

By Dave Landon

I got my driver’s license in the summer of 1970. Like almost every other teenager, I looked forward to getting my driver’s license. For some, it represented a degree of freedom and independence from parents, guardians, or perhaps older siblings. Most of us knew from an early age the exact date when we would be eligible to get our temps, and then calculated the date six months later when we could take first our written test and then the driving test. We knew as soon as we passed both, we then could put down the money to get the plastic. In the small town where I grew up, getting that license was a rite of passage.

In the summer of 1970, I took drivers education between my junior and senior year of high school. Nothing remarkable about that except that most of my classmates took the course the summer before. I was one of the few members of my class too young to take the course between our sophomore and junior years. The age requirement to take the course was that you had to turn 16 by June 1st of the summer you wanted to enroll in driver’s education.  My birthday was June 2nd. There was no appeal, I was forced to wait a year to get my driver’s license.

So by the time I got my license, most of my classmates were already driving. While it bugged me at the time, as I look back at the experience I believe it was for my benefit. When I took the course I was 17 and a year more mature. I was a better driver than I would have been at 16. Tragically, out of a class of 90 students, three of my classmates died in car or motorcycle accidents by the time we graduated. These were deaths that, to some extent, could be blamed on inexperience of the teenage drivers. This all occurred before the modern day distractions of cell phones and texting. Today, teenage drivers have even more distractions than I faced to take their focus off of the operation of what can quickly turn into a 2,000 lbs. weapon.

The State of Ohio is considering legislation that will change the rules for young drivers. There is growing concern about the number of injuries and deaths across the state which involve inexperienced teenage drivers. The new Ohio law would increase the age for a teen to receive a probationary license from 16 years to 16 and a half. Under the new law, once the teen was eligible to take and pass their drivers test, they still have a one-year probationary period where they can only drive during certain hours and are limited to one non-family member in the car at any one time.

How bad is the problem? We’ve seen tragic stories already this fall of local teenage drivers who have been killed in car crashes. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2015, 2,333 teens in the United States ages 16–19 were killed in automobile accidents involving teenage drivers. The CDC also cites that 221,313 teenagers in the same age group were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes in 2014. That means that every day six teenagers ages 16–19 die from motor vehicle injuries.

Statistically, teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate dangerous situations and are not as able, as adults are, to even recognize hazardous situations. Teens are also more likely than adults to make critical decision errors that lead to serious crashes. Studies show that teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and tend to follow too closely the vehicle in front of them. To make the situation even more risky, the presence of male teenage passengers increases the likelihood of this risky driving behavior.

According to the National Safety Council, 16 to18-year-olds are more likely to die in car crashes than others on the road. Although teen drivers only make up 5 percent of all licensed drivers, they are responsible for 13 percent of all fatal crashes. They are also involved in more accidents before midnight, and 76 percent of nighttime crashes. In 2014, 50 percent of teen deaths from motor vehicle crashes occurred between 3 p.m. and midnight and 53 percent occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

So, what are the changes to Ohio law, which could change the deadly statistics Ohio teens are facing? In addition to the age change, there are two changes that I believe have the most potential to save lives. First, no driving between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., unless that driver is accompanied by a parent or guardian. Those with valid documentation from work, school, or church allowing for travel for activities between these hours are exempt. Secondly, there is no driving with more than one non-family member in the car. A car load of friends can quickly distract a young driver and lead to an accident. There is nothing more fraught with danger than a car of testosterone-fueled, loud-music-playing, teenage boys cruising the town in search of adventure. Too many times they find it.

I would urge the legislature to pass the proposed law. Many teenager’s welfare could very well depend on it.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@DaytonCityPaper.com.


Baby birds gotta drive

Start young and get the experience

By Don Hurst

I’m excited that Ohio has so few problems that our legislature can debate pushing the age requirement for driver’s licenses back by six months. If they can devote time to that nonissue then we must be just days away from solving that opioid epidemic I’ve heard a few things about.

There is no reason to delay the driving age. Minors already have to graduate from driver’s ed. They have to pass a state agency driver’s test. Their parents, the ones who are financially on the hook for a minor’s bad driving, have to agree for the kids to have a license in the first place. It’s not like we’re passing out driver’s licenses like Halloween candy.

Members of the Ohio legislature fell into the trap that many of us old people find ourselves: young ‘uns are going to kill us all. Today’s youth are just weaker and dumber and uglier than my generation. They can’t handle the same stuff that I could handle at their age. I had to forage quarters for a pay phone to call my friends, there were only 30 channels on my cable TV, I had to ride my horse and buggy to ye olde video shoppe to rent a cassette, and blah blah blah.

Sure, there are skills I had as a kid that my son doesn’t, but that shouldn’t make me feel superior. It’s not like when I was 12 I was hunting deer to feed my family and growing crops to survive like my grandfather.

Yes, 16 and 17 year olds do get into more accidents. Full disclosure: In my first week of solo driving I crashed into two cars in the parking lot of the Springboro IGA. However, the higher statistics are a product of inexperience rather than age. Put a 16 year old, 18 year old, and 30 year old with zero driving experience together and the accident rate will be pretty comparable. Don’t believe me? Google adult Saudi women driving for the first time.

Pushing back the age will only mean we will have more 16 1/2 and 17-year-olds having accidents. Maybe even worse. Perhaps they will be so conditioned to a parent in the car that they won’t react to danger unless they hear the sharp intake of breath and the stomping of ghost brake pedals from the passenger seat.

If we want our youth to act like adults, we have to treat them like adults.

But they have new technology that we didn’t have as kids! They have those cell phones and the Instagram and that social media from the devil! They’re distracted and they will kill us all!

I understand the fear. During my time as a police officer I did have to deal with some 16 year olds wrecking cars. But honestly, most of the accidents I dealt with involved adults doing stupid shit. Putting make up on while driving, sex while driving, drinking while driving, screaming at other drivers hanging out the window while driving. The list of stupidity goes on and on. The 16-year-olds were not my problem.

In fact, driving is actually less deadly now than when I was a kid. We didn’t have cell phones so that was a plus. But do you know what else we didn’t have? Seat belt laws. Those were for sissies. The only thing I needed to keep me from hurtling through a windshield at 50 mph was the loving, restraining arm of my mother. Air bags? Nope. Blind spot indicators? Not at all. My blind spot safety was to invoke a prayer to any god listening while I switched lanes on I-75. Backup cameras? My sister in the back seat screaming at me that cars and people were coming and tattling to my parents later about how close we came to certain annihilation was my backup camera.

Somehow I managed to survive to reach full adulthood. Not sure how. I learned to drive at a time best described as what would happen if Nickelodeon produced Mad Max: Fury Road.

It is safer now. The math supports this. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety traffic fatalities have trended downward since the 1970s. Deaths in 2015 and 2016 did increase but even those numbers are still 30 percent lower than the ‘70s. Much of that increase in 2015 and 2016 can be attributed to more cases of drunk and drugged driving. It’s even safer for 16-17-year-old drivers now with a 69 percent decrease since 1975 in their age group.

If Ohio lawmakers want to make driving safer they should focus on drunks and junkies.

Driving is risky. We’re maneuvering steel boxes of death at 60 mph. Unfortunately, the best way to learn is to just do it. Inexperience can only be cured by gaining experience. So everyone keep your head on a swivel. Teenagers are out there. But so are drunks, junkies, and people reading the newspaper while driving. Wear your cleanest underwear, get right with the Lord, and if possible shove a sibling in the back seat to scream when you get to close to other cars.

Godspeed. And good luck.

Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at DonHurst@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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