Home Law OPINION: Why Ohio’s proposed law on teen drivers is flawed

OPINION: Why Ohio’s proposed law on teen drivers is flawed

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Opinion writer Charlotte Caldwell argues the time required of teen drivers with a learner’s permit could be extended, but that is not all that needs fixing.

A new Ohio law being proposed under House Bill 293 could, if passed, require teen drivers looking to earn their license to spend a full year with a learner’s permit compared to the current six months. The law would also restrict unlicensed teens accompanied by parents from driving past 10 p.m. Currently, unlicensed teens accompanied by parents can drive until midnight.

While this may be a relief for some parents who feel that their kids are not prepared to be driving alone after six months, this law may not have any impact on the fact that car accidents are among the leading causes of death among teens.

Many other factors put teen drivers at risk besides lack of experience. The CDC lists the “Eight Danger Zones” that are the leading causes of teen crashes. While driver inexperience is the first on the list, other causes such as driving with teen passengers, not using seat belts, and distracted driving are equally impactful.

Changing the law may give an inexperienced driver more time to drive in all conditions, but that doesn’t mean that they will be permitted to do it. Many parents are afraid to even get in the car with their first-time drivers and consequently don’t let them drive as often as they should to become experienced when they’re on their own. Further, many parents admit to not adhering to the “Graduated Driver Licensing” rules to help their teens become experienced drivers.

While the main focus when talking about how to make the roads safer is inexperienced teens, another generation should be equally held accountable: elderly drivers. Not counting teen drivers, statistics show that seniors have the highest crash death rate per mile driven, even though they drive fewer miles.

Older drivers may be safer drivers because they follow laws better than younger drivers, but many do not take into account the visual, cognitive, and physical skills that affect driving ability with increasing age and therefore fail to compensate for them.

As drivers get older, their relative probability of fatal injury increases, but the relative risk that they are willing to take decreases. This leads to driving habits like driving way under the speed limit, which puts seniors at a greater risk of an accident when mixed with younger drivers who have waning patience.

Stricter state policies are not considered as much for senior drivers because they pose a low overall risk traffic safety, but there is more that DMVs could do to ensure that the right people can continue driving.

One idea is to have people over a certain age go through more intensive screening to determine if their license can be renewed. Another less costly idea would be to require physicians to inform the DMV if they believe their patient’s driving ability may be impaired.

The real solution should come from educating the public about leading risk factors that cause automobile accidents and what they can do to protect seniors and teens alike from the harmful effects.

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