Is 6 months enough for an inexperienced driver?
Troy and Stacy Schlotterbeck did everything they thought they were supposed to do when teaching their son Gavin to drive. They followed Ohio teenage driving laws—he was enrolled in driver education and they practiced with him during the six months 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. He was just an inexperienced driver.
“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.”
Inexperienced Driver Statistics
Teen crashes and fatalities are all too common. 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. He runs a non-profit advanced driver training program that gives drivers a better understanding of vehicle dynamics. Students are also trained to react in situations where things go wrong.
The evidence that driving experience reduces crash rates is overwhelming. The AAA Foundation found the crash rate of 16-17-year-olds was nearly double that of 18-19-year-olds. Even a few years of experience can make a significant impact.
Ohio Teenage Driving Laws
Ohio’s system for licensing an inexperienced driver 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. Currently, Ohio driving law only prohibits driving hours between midnight and 6 a.m. for the first 12 months, unless accompanied by a parent.
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.
“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. That should tell you that six months isn’t enough. It’s not working. Something has to be done. They need more time.”
Studies have shown longer permit phases are associated with large reductions in 16- to 17-year-old driver fatal crashes. According to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, GDL programs allow for an inexperienced driver to gain experience in lower-risk situations.
How Parents Can Help Teen Safe Driving Habits
The American Academy of Pediatrics has compiled a list of tips for parents on reinforcing safe driving habits for their teens. Here are a few:
- Practice at least 50 hours with your teen behind the wheel.
- Once your teen obtains their learner’s permit, start with basic skills. Then start incorporating higher-risk scenarios, such as driving on freeways and at night.
- Teach your teen how to perform basic car maintenance, such as checking tire pressure and oil. Keeping their vehicle in the best working condition will reduce the risk of unexpected issues while they’re driving.
How to Get Involved in Teen Driver Education
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.
To get involved in the Ohio GDL Coalition, contact Kimberly Schwind at email@example.com.
Visit AAA.com/HB106 to contact your local Representative and voice your support for this life-saving legislation.
For updates visit AAA.com/GDL.