Sunday, October 29, 2000

'Graduated licensing' slow to show payoff

Proving skills earns more privileges

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It used to be a rite of passage: Kids would get their driver's license at 16 or 17, sometimes blowing out of the house the moment they blew out the candles. Today, many states require the youngest drivers to prove road safety skills in various stages before becoming fully licensed.

        But state laws vary, a particularly confusing situation in Greater Cincinnati, where teens can drive in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana all within a half-hour.

        And whether the laws are making teens safer on the road remains to be seen.

  • Young blood on the road
  • Take our teen driver survey
  - 'Graduated licensing' slow to show payoff
  • New driver laws in the Tristate
  • Teen doing time for girlfriend's death
  • Scares and rewards: Programs try to make safe drivers
        Since Jan. 1, 1999, when Ohio began enforcing its “graduated licensing” law, the number of fatal teen crashes locally actually has increased.

        Teen drivers in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties were involved in 34 fatal crashes in 1999, up from an average of 28 crashes a year in four years preceding the law.

        Fatal crashes have increased statewide, too, since the law took effect. There were 320 fatal crashes involving drivers under 21 in Ohio in 1999, up from an average of 309 in the four years before the law change.

        “I think graduated licensing is the way to go, but only time will tell,” says Li Hui Chen, author of a national teen-driving study at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Her study found that the more teen passengers a teen driver has, the more likely he is to have an accident.

        The study examined national auto accident trends from 1992 to 1997, and found that 16-year-old drivers carrying one passenger were 39 percent more likely to get killed than those driving alone. That jumped to 86 percent with two passengers and 182 percent with three or more.

        Ms. Chen advocates limiting the number of passengers a new driver can carry, provisions that are part of licensing laws in Ohio and Indiana, but not Kentucky.

        “When teens have teen passengers, they're more likely to speed,” she says.

        Two Delhi 13-year-olds killed in June were among 10 passengers jammed into a Jeep Cherokee with five seat belts, which violated the 16-year-old teen driver's license that required a seat belt for everyone in the vehicle.


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