The horrific crash on March 16 involving five Grand Haven girls forever changed their lives, and the lives of family members and friends. Thankfully, all five girls are still with us today, and are working through a long and painful recovery and healing process.
As the raw emotions surrounding this crash begin to settle, it’s time to ask whether the current laws in place are sufficient to protect our young drivers. That answer is clearly "no."
Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death and injury for young adults in Michigan. In 2008, drivers ages 16-24 constituted 14 percent of all drivers, yet were involved in 36 percent of all crashes and nearly 32 percent of fatal crashes. That’s a lot of crashes for such a small pool of drivers.
State legislators recognized the perils of teenage drivers and enacted some laws meant to protect them. Those laws fall short of the mark, however, as illustrated by the recent crash.
On March 30, 2011, teenage drivers with a Level 2 license under the Graduated Driver Licensing program had to comply with new driving restrictions, including limits on the number of passengers in a vehicle and shorter nighttime driving hours. Studies have shown that the crash risk for teen drivers increases exponentially for each additional passenger. The restrictions prohibit Level 2 license holders from having more than one under 21-year-old passenger unless the individual is a member of the driver's immediate family, or the driver is traveling to or from school or a school-sanctioned event.
The state semifinal basketball game in Lansing that our local girls drove toward certainly qualifies as a school-sanctioned event, but the specifics of this restriction must be questioned. What sense does a law make that allows kids to travel 80 miles to an event, yet prohibits them from driving across town with their friends to grab something to eat?
While it might have been a step in the right direction, the laws fall short on common sense. State lawmakers should take another look at driving restrictions and add stipulations on distances young drivers may travel, and specifically with whom they are allowed to travel for those distances. They should do this soon, before another tragedy befalls our children.