Springfield School of Driving instructor Cindy Berry talks with student Makenna Taylor before a driving lesson. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Clark, Champaign teens might have longer wait for driver’s licenses

It might take Clark and Champaign County teens longer to receive their driver’s licenses as Ohio lawmakers debate changes intended to cut down on crashes.

Legislators have introduced a bill that would increase the learner’s permit time-frame from six months to one year.

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Teen drivers are far more likely than other drivers to be involved in fatal crashes because they lack driving experience and tend to take greater risks, according to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety’s 2019 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws.

Ohio teens currently can go to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to get their permit beginning at the age of 15½. Then they must wait six months before getting a license.

Under a recently introduced bill to the Ohio House of Representatives, the permit phase would be extend from six months to one year for drivers under the age of 18.

The proposal would also require new drivers to be supervised after 10 p.m., rather than midnight, for the first six months after they get their license.

Last year, and in 2017, a bill passed the House Transportation Committee but didn’t get a floor vote before the session ended.

Driving experience

Advocates for the bill say it’s intended to improve safety for teens like 16-year-old Makenna Taylor, who moved to Clark County from Kansas in 2017.

Taylor has been driving since the age of 14. In Kansas, teens can start driving with a permit at the age of 14. At 15, they can receive a restricted driver’s license in that state.

“With that, you can basically drive to school, work and church,” Taylor said. “Then at 16 and a half, you can have one passenger. So you don’t get your full license until you are 17.”

Taylor said she was surprised when she moved to Ohio and learned how quickly teens can get their driver’s license.

“In Kansas, the process is longer, but you get a lot more experience,” Taylor said. “I’ve had the chance to learn a lot.”

According to the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the crash rate for 16-year-olds is almost nine times greater than that of the general population of drivers. This could be because teens aren’t as educated on the roads and therefore make more daring moves, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety’s report says.

Linda Scheter, owner of the Springfield School of Driving, said she believes an age increase for teen drivers would lead to safer drivers. But she also said teens should be required to have more practice hours.

“Right now, teens only have to have 50 hours of practice, not including driving school,” Scheter said. “So you if spread that out over a year, it doesn’t really work. But, if you double it, then it forces teens to have to drive even more.”

The age increase also would allow for teens to have more experience with driving in all of the seasons and weather, Scheter said

“If you get your permit in February or March, you are going to end up with a fall license, but you are never getting any winter driving,” Scheter said. “We don’t want drivers in a situation where they don’t know how to drive in snow, fog, rain.”

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‘Never tell them they are perfect’

Even with extra training, Scheter said it’s important that no teen driver believes they are “excellent.”

“I make it a point to tell my instructors, ‘Sure you can tell students they are great. But never tell them they are perfect,’” Scheter said. “That’s the last thing a teen needs to hear. That’s when trouble starts.”

Overconfident teens make for some of the worst drivers, she said. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers in America, according to AAA.

“It’s really hard to hear about teens who get into accidents,” Scheter said. “Sometimes it makes me want to close my doors for good. You teach these kids and send them on their way but you never stop caring.”

Hearing about the Greenon High School accident is still hard for Scheter and some of her students.

In 2017, two Greenon High School students, David Waag and Connor Williams, died in a crash. Both boys were in the backseat of a black 2005 Toyota Corolla when the driver allegedly lost control, and the car hit a tree before rolling over, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

Waag and Williams weren’t wearing seat belts.

Shortly after the boys died, another Greenon student, Kendal “Kenny” DePhillip, died while a passenger in a car that crashed on Fowler Road between Rebert Pike and Broadway Road.

“It doesn’t matter how much practice you give them, there is nothing the parents can do, there is nothing we can do,” Scheter said. “Once they are out there on their own — they are out there for good.”

While it’s true that parents can’t monitor everything teens do once they are on their own, state patrol Sgt. Cliffton Dowell said there are some driving tips to help them develop good habits early.

“Try to be in the habit of buckling up prior to putting the vehicle in gear,” Dowell said. “It will become a habit that could one day save your life.”

It’s also always good idea to limit technology in the car, Dowell said.

“It’s recommended that you place your wireless electronic device in a place where you aren’t tempted to use it unless there is an emergency,” Dowell said. “Doing little things can help you from being distracted. Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. Distracted driving isn’t just texting — it’s changing the radio station, eating or talking with passengers.”

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‘Statistics show this works’

Distracted driving is one of the top five factors that contribute to fatal teen crashes, according to AAA. That’s why Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, said he favors supporting the bill extending the permit period.

“We aren’t going to save every life,” he said. “But if we could save one, or improve safety on the roads for everyone, that’s what matters.”

One complaint parents have about the potential law is that it would prevent 16-year-old teens from driving to work, Koehler said.

“I know it could be problem for those who want their child to get to work, but we want them to be alive even more,” Koehler said. “I want young people to go to work. But at the same time, I also want them to make it to make it to work at 17, 18 years old.”

Koehler said the bill has yet to be scheduled for a floor vote this session, but he hopes he’ll have the chance to vote yes on it.

“Statistics show us that this works,” Koehler said.

In the meantime, Cindy Berry, an instructor at the Springfield School of Driving, will continue to do her part to make sure local teens are better prepared for the roads.

Berry has her own method of making teenagers pay attention.

“I’m going to tell you how to get a free car,” Berry said to Taylor while the two practice braking distance in a Chevy Cruze in the parking lot of the school.

“Jack is driving behind you and not paying attention. When you reach a red light, how much distance are you going to leave between you and the car in front of you?” Berry said.

“A car length,” Taylor said.

“Right. That way, when Jack hits you because he’s texting and driving, you won’t hit the car in front of you. That means Jack’s insurance will pay to fix your car. Look at that new car,” Berry said. “There are Jacks on the road every day.”

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