Teen drivers, teen passengers a bad mix


OCCASIONALLY AN idea comes along that makes such good sense that I wonder why it takes a law to get us to do it. That is the case with the legislation introduced by Del. Adrienne A. Mandel, a Montgomery County Democrat. House Bill 462 would prohibit teen-age drivers from carrying teen-age passengers other than siblings during the driver's first six months with a license.

A similar bill, SB 233, was introduced by Sen. Roy P. Dyson, a Southern Maryland Democrat.

How enforceable it is, and whether it would be enforced, is another issue. I can point to at least two regulations (one state, one Howard County) that are on the books, but are virtually ignored by the police.

I'm not pointing fingers at the police. They generally have bigger fish to fry than collaring those who cruise in the left lane or those who leave snow on their sidewalks until the spring thaw.

Why aren't parents prohibiting their teen-agers from transporting other teen-age passengers, for their collective safety? My parents, long, long ago, had two rules for my sister and I after we got our licenses: No radio and no friends in the car.

Those rules lasted long beyond the six months proposed by the new legislation. My father-in-law summed up the situation for new drivers. "You don't know how to drive; you only know how to steer," he told my husband after he got his license so long ago.

And my father-in-law was right. According to data from AAA Mid-Atlantic, motor vehicle crashes are the top cause of death for those between the ages of 15 and 20; 16-year-olds are involved in nine times the number of crashes as all other drivers. So while this idea makes sense, it doesn't make sense that parents aren't already doing it. The legislation is supported by folks who study traffic and driving for a living, such as AAA Mid-Atlantic's John White, who testified in favor of HB 462 before the House Environmental Matters Committee.

"It is critically important to provide an opportunity for new teen drivers to refine the skills they learned in driver's education before subjecting them to the dangers and peer pressures that come with each teen-age passenger that jumps in the vehicle," said White, manager of public and government relations. "With even one teen passenger, the likelihood of a new teen driver being in a crash almost doubles. With two or more teen passengers, the crash-risk increases fivefold."

According to testimony provided by a Maryland state trooper, the 16-year-old driver involved in a double-fatal crash Feb. 16 on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway [Route 295] had her license for two months. If Mandel's legislation had been in place, the driver and her 16-year-old passenger might have been saved, White said.

"Studies show it takes thousands of hours behind the wheel to become a good and experienced driver," White said. He advocates doing whatever is possible to eliminate the distractions and peer pressures new teen-age drivers often experience.

So yes, the legislation makes sense and may indeed save young lives. I hope you will contact your representatives in Annapolis in support of it.

Pothole repair

This is the time of year when our hubcaps and wheel alignments are in the most danger from potholes.

But there is hope. Bill Malone, chief of Howard County Bureau of Highways, said the county has been repairing potholes recently.

"Our aggressive pavement-maintenance program to surface our roads and keep moisture from the subbase has been a big help in minimizing pothole creation. But even so, the high ground water combined with the daily freeze-thaw cycle has been hard on the roads," he said. "We are using cold-patch material to make temporary repairs to get us through the next couple months. In the spring, when weather improves, we will go back and make permanent repairs."

To make permanent repairs, crews saw cut the road to good pavement, clean out the pothole to undisturbed material and put in hot-mix asphalt. Temperatures are too cold now for hot mix -- the material would cool too quickly to use by the time it comes off the truck and into the pothole.

"During this time of year, we proactively look for potholes, but the public can help by calling 410-313-7450 if they see a pothole on a county road," Malone said.

And how do you know whether the state or county maintains a road? If it has a number, such as Route 103, U.S. 1, or Interstate 95, it is a state-maintained road. If it has a name, such as St. Johns Lane, call the county. For state roads in Howard County, contact SHA's Dayton Maintenance Facility, at 410-531-5533. If the pothole is on a state-maintained road in Carroll County, call the Westminster Maintenance Facility, 410-848-6565; or in Frederick County, call the Frederick Maintenance Facility, 301-624-8251.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison@us.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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