Enhanced GDL laws take aim at 16- and 17-year-olds
Thursday, June 05, 2014 12:00 AM
State Representative Rick Perales
According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), car crashes remain the leading cause of death for teenagers and more teens die in traffic crashes during the summer — between Memorial Day and Labor Day — than any other time of the year.
The Ohio Department of Public Safety reported one teen fatality in Van Wert County between Memorial Day and Labor Day in 2013. Statewide figures show 29 teens ages 13-19 died on the roads in the same time frame, accounting for 34 percent of teen crash deaths for the year. On a national level, traffic crashes resulted in 26 percent more teen deaths with an average of 261 teen crash fatalities each summer month last year.
In an effort to decrease all teen crash deaths and help protect 16- and 17-year-olds — who are statistically more likely to die in a car crash — Representative Rick Perales, a Republican from Beavercreek, Ohio, is sponsoring House Bill 204 which enhances current Graduated Driver License (GDL) laws and is currently making its way through the Ohio legislature.
“This is going to attack what is statistically shown are the weakest spots that make our vulnerable drivers – our 16- and 17-year-olds – most at risk,” said Perales.
The GDL enhancements include restricting teens with a probationary license (new drivers) from driving without a parent present between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., with exceptions of work or school activities.
Statistics show a teen driver’s chances of being involved in a fatal crash doubles when driving at night. More than half of nighttime crashes occur between 9 p.m. and midnight, when it is still legal for teenage drivers to be on the road.
Delphos Police Chief Kyle Fittro explained that if a teen driver is picked up driving during the restricted time frame, usually officers charge them with a curfew violation rather than the traffic offense.
“Juveniles tend to have their license suspended more readily than adults,” Fittro said.
He said teen driving safety and the GDL laws are very important and under the circumstances — running a police department with a skeleton crew — we have to prioritize.
“There are so many heroin related issues that spin off, car and house break ins,” he reasoned. “We have to give priority to what hurts the community the most.”
Also, drivers younger than 18 can only have one non-family passenger in the vehicle and that person must be at least 21 and have a valid driver’s license. Currently, the law permits 16-year-olds to drive with only one person who is not a family member in the vehicle, unless accompanied by the license holder’s parent, guardian, or legal custodian.
Spencerville Police Chief Darin Cook said a parent sent an anonymous email to him explaining a new driver had more than one buddy in his car driving to football practice.
“I went to the school officials, explained the situation and they passed the information along to the appropriate people,” he detailed. “It was handled before it became a real problem.”
Permit holders under the age of 18 are prohibited from driving between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., unless accompanied by a parent, guardian or legal custodian who holds a valid license.
Cook said when he and his officers stop a teen driver for an infraction, they give kids the benefit of the doubt unless the driver has an attitude, causes property damage or has an injury accident.
“I tell the teen driver what they did wrong and request they have their parents call me before my shift ends,” he said. “I tell the parents what happened and ask them to talk with their teen.”
The teen is warned that if they do not have their parents call, they will get a violation and if they are stopped a second time, they will get a violation.
Cook said parents appreciate helping me enforce the law and thank me for the consideration.
“I have nothing but confidence in this community and 99 percent of the time, there are no repeat teen offenders with violations,” he said.
Another new facet to the law states that any minor found guilty of a moving violation can only drive with a parent or guardian present until they turn 18. In addition, safety belts must be worn by all passengers when traveling with holders of temporary permits and licensed drivers under 18 years of age.
Recently Cook held a Seat Belt Blitz, checking to see that kids were wearing their restraints.
“That went really well and no kids were driving with more than one passenger,” he said proudly.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that one passenger doubles the risk of a crash among teen drivers, two passengers triple the risk, and three or more passengers increase the risk by more than six times.
“For example, if teens are doing something to draw attention to themselves — there’s a pile of kids in a car or there’s a driving infraction — we are going to stop them and assess the situation,” Fittro explained.
For more information on Ohio’s GDL visit bmv.ohio.gov/graduated_dl_teen_laws.stm.