Teenage drivers will have to use their learner’s permits for an entire year if Ohio lawmakers pass a bill aimed at giving young driver’s more experience behind the wheel before they hit the road alone.
Ohio minors can currently get their learner’s permit at 15 years and six months old. After six months with a permit and a driver’s education course, teens can get their probationary licenses as early as their 16th birthday.
But a new law up for debate in the Ohio legislature would make it so Ohioans under the age of 18 would have to hold the permits for a full year, meaning the earliest they could get their driver’s license would be at 16 years and six months old.
A Dayton Daily News examination of Ohio Department of Transportation data found drivers ages 15 to 19 make up about 5% of the driving population in Ohio, yet they are involved in about 15% of all accidents. In this area, Warren County has the second highest percentage, 22%, of accidents involving teens in Ohio.
“We will never get away from the idea of teens being grossly misrepresented (in crashes), but I think we kind of owe it to ourselves and to them to get them the best equipped,” said Sgt. Chris Colbert at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Dayton post.
Dangers of teen driving
About 150,000 licensed 16 and 17 year old Ohioans are currently heading into one of the most dangerous driving seasons. Prom is a major concern with many high schoolers piling into the same vehicle creating major distractions, said Cindy Antrican, spokeswoman for Miami Valley AAA.
But a bigger concern is heading into the summer months, where teens are driving for leisure on unfamiliar routes, not just to and from school, work and practice, she said.
Over the last five years, 15- to 17-year-old drivers have been at fault in more than 67,000 crashes in Ohio. Of those, 150 were fatal and 1,451 included a serious injury, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Those driver’s have also racked up 12,420 traffic citations in 2018 — 189 for operating a vehicle while under the influence, 7,804 for speeding and 40 for distracted driving.
Young drivers don’t recognize the risk of distracted driving and speeding in the same way as more tenured drivers, said Capt. Andy Flagg of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. They may have quicker reaction times than older driver’s but they aren’t starting the reaction until later because they haven’t learned to recognize the warning signs.
“There’s no one thing when you’re operating a motor vehicle because there’s so many things in play. You have to work within the scope of your abilities,” he said.
A accident near the city of Monroe last year shows a perfect storm of the major issues law enforcement officers see when teens are behind the wheel — speeding, distractions and lack of seat belts.
Four teenagers were late to dinner before prom on April 28. Chynna Brandon, who turned 17 a month earlier, was reportedly driving up to 112 mph in a posted 55 mph stretch of Milkin Road in her father’s 2013 Tesla with three other passengers. The vehicle lost control, over-corrected and struck a telephone pole, killing 17-year-old Kaylie Jackson who wasn’t wearing a seat belt in the back seat.
“This is not just a danger to teens. This is not just a teen driver problem. This is everyone’s safety issue,” Antrican said.
Two-thirds of those who are injured or killed in a crash that involves a teen driver are somebody other than the teen driver.
Changing the amount of time minors must have a permit will give them six extra months to experience different driving situations, said Denice Walkup-King, a former driver’s instructor. Young drivers who get their permit in March or April may never experience snow until after they’re on their own.
Walkup-King’s son Derek waited until he was 17.5 to get his permit and 18 to get his driver’s license. After six months, she said he was ready to drive because she worked with him often in many different situations.
But not every parent has the same strategy when it comes to teaching their children how to drive, and just because someone taking their driver’s test has had a permit for six months, it doens’t mean they’ve been on the road that long, said Sharon Fife, owner of D&D Driving School in Kettering. Driving to and from school or in a parking lot for 50 hours isn’t enough.
“We give a teen more time to learn to play the flute sometimes, then we do putting him in a 5,000 pound vehicle,” Antrican said.
The extra six months will be beneficial if used to the fullest, Flagg said. That includes riding with permit holders in all types of weather, lighting and road conditions. It’s not just nighttime or rain to make sure students are practicing in, but the combination of rain after dark.
“Get them exposed to those elements when you’re there, when it’s control, when you can provide that guidance to them. I’d much rather have somebody experienced sitting next to me when I’m facing something new then to try to go it alone,” Flagg said.
The bill under consideration in the Ohio House right now would also restrict night time driving hours for a probationary license holder to 10 p.m. rather than the current midnight.
“It’s not a curfew,” Antrican said. “We want them driving after 10 p.m., but we want them driving with an adult in the car.”
There’s more to be done, Walkup-King said. Different groups should be working to create a simulation or convert empty parking lots into facilities that can give young drivers a chance to experience hydroplaning, overcorrecting and skidding in a safe, controlled environment, she said.
Walkup- King said her son was in no hurry and she was willing to drive him and his friends wherever they needed to go. But it’s important for parents to know who their kids are hanging out with, especially if they’re getting in a car.
“You’re entrusting your child’s life with another child driving a two-ton vehicle at 60 mph…and not a fully developed brain,” she said.
Parents should also work to develop rules about speeding, passenger limits and distracted driving with their children, Antrican said. It’s important to set out for them what kind of punishment will result from immature driving behaviors.
“Skills is one thing. Maturity level is another. But I don’t think another six months is going to change that,” Fife said. “You just get smarter, your brain is developing and you don’t really have a good risk awareness until you’re a little older.”
But some students said they don’t want the laws changed, including Braelen Devoe, a 16-year-old at Centerville High School. Devoe is currently finishing up her driving hours in driver’s education. She got her permit in October at 15.5 years old.
If she has to wait longer to get her license, it means her parents have to drive her to practice, to get food and on dates.
“I’ve been taught really well on how to be a defensive driver, so I feel like right now I’m ready to take on the road alone,” she said.
Another concern is that the potential law change pushing a driver’s license further back in age would cause some teens to put off getting their driver’s license until age 18, when they don’t have to take a driver’s ed course or put in a specific number of hours of driving, Fife said.
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