Sweet 16 (and a Half): Ohio Lawmakers Want to Increase Driving Age

By: Kyle Magin March 14, 2018
Ohio's newest drivers account for its highest percentage of accidents, so the state's representatives are debating a bill to withhold their driver's licenses for a longer period of time.
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Ohio’s youngest drivers are its most dangerous, so Buckeye State lawmakers plan to increase the minimum age at which young motorists can apply for a driver’s license.

House Bill 293 cleared a key Ohio House of Representatives committee in late February and is now headed to the full House for a vote at an unspecified date. The legislation would increase the age at which a young Ohioan could apply for their first driver’s license from 16 to 16 ½ years old. The bill would also require new drivers to hold a temporary instruction permit for 12 months, up from the current six-month requirement, and restrict permit holders to driving between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. if they aren’t accompanied by an adult, a shift from the current 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. restriction.

At a hearing on the bill, Robert Foss, retired director of the University of North Carolina’s Center for the Study of Young Drivers at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, testified on its behalf.

“The current system reflects what we knew about teen drivers and their crash rates back in the 1990s,” Foss said. “We’ve learned a great deal over the past 20+ years about this issue and Ohio’s licensing system hasn’t kept up with our current understanding of what the risks are and how to deal with them. The bottom line is this bill brings two changes that will really bring Ohio’s licensing system up to be one of the best in the nation.”

In 2017, Ohio’s youngest drivers—15-, 16-, and 17-year olds—accounted for 55 fatalities and 5,434 injuries, according to Ohio State Highway Patrol statistics. In total, the new drivers were involved in 20,501 accidents, and determined to be at fault in 68.4% of those wrecks, outdoing any other age group of Ohio motorists.

“The key importance is that we know a lot of crashes are due to inexperienced drivers,” said Dr. Shay O’Mara, the system chief for trauma and acute care surgery in the OhioHealth hospital network. “In Ohio, we just don’t give them enough time to maximize their experience before they are out there putting others at risk.”

And putting others at risk is driving momentum for this bill. The driver dies in less than 40% of Ohio’s fatalities where a teen is behind the wheel; most of those killed are passengers or someone in another vehicle, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

An online calculator from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated that Ohioans would see a 7% reduction in fatal crashes if they pass the bill and move the driver’s license age to 16 ½. By restricting teens to driving unaccompanied between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., the state would see a 5% reduction in fatal crashes, according to the calculator.

The bill has a wide range of supporters including the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, Ohio Association of Police Chiefs, Ohio Conference of AAA Clubs, and the Ohio PTA. Whether teens want the restrictions is another question, but in this case, as in many others, the adults—and their statistics—may know what’s best.

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