Who: Brian Newbacher, Director of
Public Affairs, AAA East Central
Chairman Reinhard, members of the Committee, my name is Brian Newbacher. I am director of public affairs for AAA East Central, which represents more than 720,000 AAA members in northeast and southeast Ohio. AAA member cities that I represent include Cleveland, Youngstown, Portsmouth, Chillicothe and Marietta.
If you didn't already know that traffic crashes are the No. 1 killer of teen-agers in America, you're not alone. In a national survey conducted by AAA, only 22 percent identified traffic crashes as the greatest threat to teens. Almost half listed the biggest risk as drug addiction, which, by comparison ranks 28th among all causes of death for persons in this age group. In fact, traffic crashes account for 40 percent of all deaths among 15-20 year olds, making traffic crashes the leading cause of death for this age group; more than suicides or drugs.
Ohio acted early in the national movement to pass graduated licensing laws to make teen driving safer and we applaud the General Assembly for the great start. However, Ohio’s law, passed eight years ago, did not include restrictions for passengers in vehicles driven by teens with probationary licenses.
As you consider the merits of HB 343, which does add passenger restrictions, I would respectfully urge you to remember the following:
Of those Ohio crash fatalities, 777 teens were killed on rural roads, which equates to 72 percent. By comparison, 259 were killed on urban roads. Concern may be expressed by some in rural areas that passenger restrictions associated with graduated licensing may prove to be a burden.
To alleviate these concerns, I would like to point out a study conducted in North Carolina, where graduated licensing was introduced in 1997. In the study, parents (in both rural and urban counties) indicated they “don’t find the additional time required of them to be a (particularly) large intrusion.”
About 96 percent of parents in rural and urban counties alike said they approve of North Carolina’s (graduated licensing) system. Among 15-17 year-olds there, about 80 percent (in both urban and rural counties) voiced their approval.
But more importantly, the results tell the tale. Evaluations of North Carolina’s (GDL) system show the benefits to teenagers in all areas of the state. Crashes involving 16-year-old drivers have declined by 25 percent in urban counties and by 30 percent in rural areas (comparing 1999 to 1997).
AAA urges you to recognize that teen probationary drivers face much greater perils when transporting passengers. The reasons are obvious. Teenage passengers create distractions for drivers who are inexperienced and who need to be paying full attention to the road. To add insult to injury the presence of peers in the vehicle often pressures young drivers to take risks.
For a teen driver, the presence of even one passenger almost doubles the crash risk of driving alone. With two or more passengers, the risk spikes to five times (according to research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).
Passenger restrictions can involve some inconvenience for parents. Still, surveys of parents and teens show strong support for passenger restrictions where they are in effect.
For example, California’s graduated licensing law went into effect in 1998 and was the first to include a meaningful passenger restriction.
No passengers younger than 20 are allowed in the vehicle during the first 6 months unless an adult 25 or older is present. (84 percent of parents surveyed favored this provision – IIHS survey)
If you are uncertain about how your constituents will feel about this bill I can tell you with great confidence that AAA members overwhelmingly understand the importance of passing this legislation.
In a recent survey conducted by the Ohio Conference of AAA Clubs, 82 percent favored passenger restrictions for probationary license holders.
I can also tell you that GDL laws in 34 other states include passenger restriction provisions. (Requirements vary as to whether this restriction applies to all passengers or to teenagers only; the number of passengers; and whether family members are exempt.)
Twenty-eight of these states have the same restriction (no more than one passenger) that Representative Raga is proposing (HI, IL, MT, NH, NJ, NC, OK, RI, TN, TX, VA, WI, WY to name several).
This bill also increases the length of the probationary license from 12 to 18 months. Currently, the probationary license in only ten other states lasts from 12 to 18 months. This is a key provision because it decreases a teenage driver’s exposure to risky driving situations (at night, with the increased curfew of one additional hour, which the bill provides; and with other teen passengers).
AAA’s analysis of Ohio crashes also shows that since 1991, 494 people “other” than teens were killed in teen driver crashes in which the driver was 16 or 17 years old. These “other” people are occupants of other vehicles and non-motorists.
These folks were people like you and me driving to and from work every day or taking a drive to enjoy the fall colors. You see, the improvements Representative Raga proposes to the GDL law aren’t just to keep teen drivers safe – they’ll help improve safety for everyone on the road.
Mr. Chairman, committee members, there is no reason to pass up this golden opportunity to make driving safer for Ohio teens. AAA supports all of the provisions in House Bill 343 as written. AAA East Central and the Ohio Teen Driver Coalition urge you to vote in favor of this legislation. Thank you.