Troy and Stacy Schlotterbeck did everything they thought they were supposed to do when teaching their son Gavin to drive. They enrolled him in driver education and worked with him during the six months or so that he had his learner’s permit. They never could have anticipated what would happen to him and his girlfriend Hunter McClelland.
On July 17, 2017, Gavin was driving with Hunter, when something caused him to go over the berm. He overcorrected into the path of an oncoming Jeep. Both he and Hunter were killed. Crash investigations revealed that Gavin wasn’t texting, speeding or impaired.
“They’ve basically said that the cause is inexperience,” said Stacy. “He went off the berm and overcorrected because he didn’t have the experience to know that you can’t just jerk the wheel.”
Teen crashes and fatalities are all too common; especially during the summer months, known as the “100 Deadliest Days” for teen drivers. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research shows new teen drivers, ages 16-17 years old, are three times as likely as adults to be involved in a deadly crash. It’s an issue that affects all road users, since the AAA Foundation also found about two-thirds of the people injured or killed in teen driver crashes are someone other than the teen driver.
“The number one reason new teen drivers crash is driver error due to lack of experience, which leads to loss of control of the vehicle,” said Mark Bloom, president and founder of the AAA Approved Driving School, Better Ohio Teen Drivers, a non-profit advanced driver training program that gives drivers a better understanding of vehicle dynamics and trains them how to react in situations where things go wrong.
“A lot of parents don’t know that car crashes are the number one killer of teenagers,” said Bloom. “It’s been that way for decades. So, why are we putting up with that?”
That’s the question the Schlotterbecks, Hunter’s mom Stephanie McClelland, and many others in Ohio are asking.
The fact is, Ohio’s system for licensing young drivers hasn’t kept up with the latest research on teen driver crashes and how to prevent them. As a result, young driver crashes in Ohio remain unnecessarily high.
“I think parents are ready to have their kids get a license just because of the busy lives that everybody has, but I do not think that they are aware of statistics,” said Troy.
In 2016, AAA took the first steps in trying to fix this by forming the Ohio Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Coalition, a broad-based coalition made up of healthcare, insurance, parents, driver training, researchers and other traffic safety advocates from across the state. The coalition’s goal is to save lives by modernizing Ohio’s young driver licensing system.
The coalition proposes two research-based adjustments to Ohio’s young driver licensing system:
- lengthen the temporary instruction permit phase from 6 to 12 months, and
- ensure newly licensed teen drivers are supervised when driving after 10 p.m. for the first six months of licensure.
H.B. 293, introduced in June 2017, proposed to do this during Ohio’s 132rd General Assembly. The bill found favor in the Ohio House Transportation and Public Safety Committee, but didn’t make it all the way through the legislature and died at the end of the session on Dec. 31, 2018. Two months later, at the start of the 133rd General Assembly, Representatives Gary Scherer (R-Circleville) and Michael Sheehy (D-Toledo) introduced H.B. 106 with the same provisions.
Bloom, McClelland and the Schlotterbecks are all strong supporters of the coalition’s efforts and H.B. 106.
“To me, it’s a no-brainer,” said Bloom
“I think that both the parents and the kids think, well, if the rule is six months that obviously must be enough, but that’s not what statistics show,” said McClelland. “It’s the number one cause of death, so right there that should tell you that six months isn’t enough. It’s not working. Something has to be done. They need more time.”
“The true benefit in having a year-long learner’s permit is that the parents get another six months of driving with their kid and trying to instill some experience,” said Troy. “There’s pretty much black and white evidence to support kids having their permit much longer.”
Studies have shown longer permit phases are associated with large reductions in 16 to 17-year-old driver fatal crashes. Nighttime driving is also especially dangerous for newly licensed teen drivers, which is why the Ohio GDL Coalition recommends supervised driving after 10 p.m. for the first six months of licensure, with exemptions for work, school and religious functions.
“Driving in the dark is just more difficult,” said McClelland. “I’ve had my license for a very long time and I don’t like driving in the dark, when it’s raining especially. It’s hard to drive in the dark in the rain and you need that experience.”
For McClelland and the Schlotterbecks it’s all about raising awareness and doing what they can to protect other teens, including their younger children, Gage and Reese – both 15 and currently going through Ohio’s licensing system.
“I can’t just sit here, because I have another son who is going to be driving soon and I want him to be safe,” said Stacy. “The reality is it’s not just him driving, it’s his friends driving and kids that he’s getting in the car with and other kids that are on the road.”
In an effort to make the roads safer for all drivers McClelland and the Schlotterbecks have joined the Ohio GDL Coalition’s efforts. They are also active members of Delaware County’s SAFE Teen Driver Parent Task Force, which is working to disseminate teen driving data and resources to Delaware County families.
“This is a lifelong sentence of loss and sorrow and grief and if we can do anything to make sure nobody else loses their child this way, even if it saves anybody, then it’s worth it,” said McClelland.
“There’s nothing more important in our lives than our children,” said Troy. “Every single parent would tell you in any situation that they would do anything possible for them. No matter what.”
Kimberly Schwind is Senior Public Relations Manager for AAA Ohio.
To get involved in the Ohio GDL Coalition, contact Kimberly Schwind at firstname.lastname@example.org.
House Bill 106 would give teens the experience they need to be safe drivers.
Visit AAA.com/HB106 to contact your local Representative and voice your support for this life-saving legislation.
For updates visit AAA.com/GDL.