Some parents and teens are complaining about a new Ohio law that goes into effect today.
The law prohibits a driver under 17 from having more than one passenger who is not a relative. If a teen driver's parent or guardian is present, more passengers are allowed. It also prevents drivers under 17 from driving between midnight and 6 a.m. without a parent or guardian. The only exception would be for driving to or from work, and the drivers would need documentation from employers.
Why is the state doing this? "Because we said so!"?
No, of course not. It's doing this to save lives. The rate of deaths and injuries for teen drivers is about 20 percent lower in states with similar restrictions. Experts say the danger of a crash increases in relationship to the number of passengers because teen drivers become distracted by their friends.
Some critics say the state is trying to legislate personal responsibility. And perhaps they have a point. But the rules are different for minors. We protect them until they are ready to assume that personal responsibility: we don't let them vote, drive or drink at will.
And, there would be no need to legislate personal responsibility at all if parents were actually stepping up and taking it. If parents aren't making sure their teens are being responsible drivers, someone has to not only for the teens' own good but also for the good of every other driver on the road.
And, in fairness, some parents are trying to do their job. But it is already difficult enough to get teenagers to do as they're told, so having the additional backing of Ohio law can't hurt.
Besides, the law is meant to be a deterrent, not a punitive measure. Law enforcement will not be able to pull teens over just for having too many passengers. But drivers can be ticketed for it if stopped for another violation, such as speeding.
However, the state will need to stay ahead of the curve 13 states have laws banning cell phone use by teen drivers. If Johnny, Sally and Mary are in three different cars instead of one, the state should make sure that, instead of having just one dangerous vehicle they don't end up with three, filled with drivers using cell phones or sending text messages to each other.