Teenage driving discussed at town hall meeting

Dec. 21, 2004, midnight | By Jonah Gold | 15 years, 9 months ago

Limitations of passengers, cell phones discussed

A meeting was held at Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School on Thursday, Dec. 16 to discuss safe teenage driving with relation to the tragic deaths of several local students within the last few months. Several topics were discussed, ranging from drunk driving to new preventive measures, and proposed bills for the Maryland Assembly were debated.

The recent deaths of high-school students were discussed heavily, as were the causes for the crashes and the solutions for the future. The main points revolved around the effects of drinking and reckless driving. Speakers included District Delegate Adrienne Mandel, Staff Director of Public and Government Relations for AAA Potomac Lon Anderson and the President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Wendy Hamilton. Each speaker proposed new legislation and measures that could solve the problem of teen car collisions.

Chuck Hurley, the Executive Director of the National Air Bag and Seat Belt Safety Campaign, wanted a much more extensive restricted license, for instance. "We are the only country in the world that gives full control [of cars] to 16-year-olds," said Hurley. He, along with the other panelists, believed that the solution to the problem of inexperience is lengthening the time period in which a teenager must have an adult driving with them. He proposed raising the in-car driving total to 400 to 500 hours instead of the 40 hours currently required.

A more rigorous driving exam was also put forth as a possible solution. "Right now, all the test shows is that you know where the gas pedal, the brake and the turn signal is," said Anderson.

Proposals also included the restriction of teenage passengers in a car. According to Ellen Conners, who serves as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the National Transportation Safety Board, each passenger doubles the rate of an accident. Therefore, the panel hoped to ban teenage passengers outside of the family for six months after an individual receives the provisional license. Conners felt that if parents do not take an active role in preventing multiple teenage passengers, "then you're taking a risk that your 16-year-old will not become a 17-year-old."

Throughout the meeting, Delegate Mandel reiterated her proposed bills to strengthen the restricted license. The legislation has not been passed due to opposition from other members of the Maryland Assembly. According to Mandel, many parents do not want to be inconvenienced by driving around their children or feel that more learning hours will not solve the problem. She therefore presented several solutions varying from a longer provisional license to stricter laws enforcing curfews.

Jason Hines, a representative from Daimler-Chrysler, felt strongly about increasing hours spent behind the wheel before earning a full license. Hines ironically stated that a hairdresser in Maryland is required to get 1,000 hours of training in order to be certified, "and I don't see anyone dying from a bad hair cut."

After the formal meeting ended, the panelists answered questions from concerned parents in the community. Questions were raised about how parents can control teen drinking and why there is opposition to bills that could more effectively restrict the provisional license.

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