As high schoolers pile into cars to head to school, dances, football games and other fall events, local law enforcement officers and parents are urging teens to make sure they follow state laws for young drivers.
Ohio has laws that prohibit 16-year-old drivers from having more than one passenger who is not a family member. Both 16 and 17-year-olds also have restrictions on driving late at night.
Although 17-year-olds can have more than one passenger, all their passengers are required to be buckled up, including those in the backseat.
“The law is designed to protect not only these young drivers, but to protect everyone else,” said Lt. Mark Neff, commander of the highway patrol’s Medina post.
This year in Medina County, two teens have been killed in traffic crashes. There’s no evidence that the teens killed were in violation of those laws, but police said they’re enforcing teen driving laws and hope it can prevent another fatal teen crash.
Neff said 16-year-old drivers are in the highest risk category because they’re still learning although they’ve received a state license.
“Having just one occupant allows their attention to be focused on driving,” he said. “If you get a lot of kids in the car it can be a distraction to the driver.”
The laws in Ohio were changed in 2007 after a strong push from a Montville Township couple who urged state lawmakers to make restrictions on the number of passengers allowed in a car with 16-year-old drivers.
Ray and Debbie Sanderbeck asked for the changes after their 15-year-old daughter Michelle Sanderbeck was killed in a car crash in 2006. She was riding in the backseat of a car driven by a 16-year-old who had his license for only three weeks at the time of the crash. The bill, supported by House Speaker Bill Batchelder, R-Medina, is known as Michelle’s Law.
“There were some statistics early on, after Michelle’s Law was passed that showed a decrease of 17 percent in teen fatalities,” Ray Sanderbeck said.
Sanderbeck said he hopes parents and teens continue to adhere to the law, even if it presents a short-term inconvenience.
“I think safety is just more important,” he said. “There’s nothing that can replace the loss of a child.”
In addition to pushing for safer teen driving laws, The Sanderbecks founded Michelle’s Leading Star Foundation, a nonprofit that helps fund teen driving education. The foundation helped purchase driving simulators for schools and supports Montville Township’s Take Control driving class which focus on dealing with panic situations like avoiding obstacles and handling a skidding vehicle. Students spend time behind the wheel, which is equipped with a Diablo Drift Lift, to give students the feeling of handling a car that has lost traction, but at safe speeds on a closed-off parking lot course.
Sanderbeck isn’t the only person urging parents to obey Ohio license restrictions. Sharon Baker, who lost her daughter Kelli in a crash in 2011, has founded Kelli’s CRUSADE to try and prevent other teen driving deaths.
“You can’t ever think it won’t happen to your child or that it can’t happen,” she said.
Baker, a Seville resident, said her initial focus was to improve dangerous road conditions. Kelli was killed when her car went off the side of Apple Creek Road in Wayne County. Kelli was wearing a seatbelt, but the roadway was under repair and there were no edge lines or center lines at the time of the crash.
In 2012, Baker founded Kelli’s CRUSADE, which stands for continuing road upgrades, safety awareness and driver education. Baker said as part of the safety awareness and driver education goals of her mission she wants parents to remember the limits on teen drivers and their passengers.
“Do not make exemptions for your children for dances or football games, it’s not worth it,” she said. “The law wouldn’t have saved my daughter, but it might save another young person.”
Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.