Fewer Fatal Teen Crashes Since License Law Took Effect, Study Shows

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - Fatal crashes caused by teen drivers have decreased 7 percent since a 1998 law that does not give teens full driving privileges until they turn 18, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.

The decrease saved about 30 lives, according to a newspaper study published Sunday of 14 months of crash data.

The fatal crash rate for teen-age drivers licensed under the law -- which requires teens get their licenses in phases -- was 24 percent less than the rate for teen drivers licensed before 1998, the newspaper reported.

But unlike 18 states that limit the number of passengers who can ride with newly licensed teen drivers, Ohio allows as many passengers as there are seat belts in a car. Some people are questioning why that restriction isn't more stringent.

"Ohio was not really on the cutting edge when we enacted our legislation several years ago," said state Rep. Kirk Schuring, a Republican from Canton who helped pass the teen-licensing law. "I would be willing to look at this more closely."

Teen drivers are four times as likely to be in an accident as older drivers, and their risk of causing a fatal accident increases sharply when other teens are passengers.

Auto accidents are the leading cause of death among teen-agers. About two-thirds of fatal accidents in Ohio in the 1990s involved drivers age 16 or 17 who did not have adults in the car.

Experts say the safest teen drivers are girls with no teen passengers in the car. The next safest driver is a boy with a teen-age girl in the passenger seat.

"They're probably just on their best behavior when they're out with a gal in the car," said Allan F. Williams, chief scientist for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a national nonprofit research organization funded by the auto insurance industry.

The crash rate nearly doubles when a boy has another male passenger in the car.

Williams said Ohio's passenger law is too lenient.

"We don't call that a passenger restriction," he said. "Count up how many are allowed, you still could have four passengers."

But Jill Cochran, driver training coordinator with the Ohio Department of Public Safety, said she does not think added restrictions for teen drivers are necessary.

"Yes, it would give parents a little more ammunition," Cochran said. "But the enforcement probably would come into play only when there was a citation" for another offense.

Meanwhile, some parents have taken it upon themselves to enforce their own restrictions.

"Probably the first two or three months, my parents didn't let me take anybody but my little brother or sister to take them to school," said Jarret Davis, 17, of Stow.

Davis said he didn't mind being alone in the car.

"It's hard enough to remember if you're supposed to turn right on a red light," he said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)