Kids all over Ohio are back to school and, for older students, that means driving to and from high school each day.
Having that kind of independence is great when you’re young, but it also comes with some responsibility. Nearly one-third of all deaths of 15- to 20-year-olds are the result of a motor vehicle crash and about 35 percent of those fatalities are alcohol-related, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Texting while driving – popular among teens AND adults, makes a driver about six times more likely to cause an accident than driving intoxicated.
Those are sobering numbers but don’t often make a serious impression on drivers until they witness or experience a crash. Then, it’s often too late.
Northmor High School holds a mock crash every other year for the benefit of juniors and seniors to emphasize the need for responsible driving, and what can happen otherwise. In May, local agencies came together to participate in an exercise behind the high school, with all juniors and seniors watching events unfold. Members of Northmor’s Youth Safety Council, led by Ellie Donohue, played the roles of crash victims, along with the ‘Grim Reaper,’ who visited the scene toward the end of the exercise.
Senior Mitchell Whistler played an impaired driver, who was drinking and taking pills at a party and left with four of his friends. He ‘collided’ head on with a car carrying a young man and woman. The ‘driver,’ student Sam Neer, did not survive the crash. Other students participating were Kameron Smith (as the Grim Reaper), Brock Trombly, Eric Runyan and Brayden Erhard, Sam Neer, Kelsey Reeder, and Lauren Bood.
Participating in the exercise were fire departments from Johnsville and Iberia, Morrow County Squads 4 and 5, deputies from the Morrow County Sheriff’s Office and Post 59 of the Ohio State Patrol, MedFlight 4, and Snyder’s Funeral Home.
Students on the lawn watched quietly as emergency workers responded to the scene and got to work assessing the situation and levels of injury, then extracting victims from the vehicles. While the students knew the crash was an exercise, some of the activity and ‘injuries’ were disturbing. This was, of course, the point being made: driving is a serious responsibility and requires a clear head. Whisler, as the impaired driver, was given sobriety tests by officers as EMTS worked on the injured, and was arrested and led away after he failed the tests.
The deceased driver of the other car (Sam Neer) was covered by a sheet and taken away at the end by representatives from Snyder’s Funeral Home.
The students said they enjoyed participating in crash, but in real life, the obvious risks to health and safety posed by underage drinking and driving can have long ranging implications that reach far into a young driver’s future. An early drunk driving conviction can have an effect on employment background checks as well as car insurance coverage. There’s a different set of legal standards when it comes to drunk drivers who are under 21.
Zero Tolerance – It is illegal for people under the age of 21 to purchase and possess alcohol in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, says dui.findlaw.com. And while driving under the influence of alcohol (normally 0.08 percent or higher blood-alcohol concentration) is illegal for all motorists, all states have so-called “zero-tolerance” laws for underage DUI offenses.
Zero-tolerance laws make it a criminal DUI offense for drivers under the age of 21 to drive with even a small amount of alcohol in their system, ranging from 0.00 to 0.02 percent BAC depending on the state. In light of such laws, even an innocent glass of wine with dinner could subject a young driver with a DUI charge. But the intent of these laws is to combat the very real dangers of underage drinking.
Why Have Zero Tolerance Laws? – The alcohol involvement rate for young drivers is roughly twice that of over-21 drivers, according to the NHTSA, while underage drinking at even low levels presents a greater risk of fatal crashes.
The National Highway Systems Designation Act of 1995 mandated that states consider a 0.02 percent BAC (or lower) for under-21 drivers to be driving under the influence in order to qualify for Federal-Aid Highway Funds. To comply, as all states eventually have, they had to set 0.02 percent BAC as what is known as a “per se offense.” That means police don’t have to prove intoxication as long as the driver is above the stated limit.
An NHTSA study comparing the first 12 states to implement zero tolerance laws with 12 other states found that those with the law had a 20% decline in fatal single-car nighttime crashes with drivers under 21. These are generally the most likely to involve alcohol. Furthermore, the biggest declines in fatal crashes occurred in states with underage BAC limits of 0.02 percent or less, while less impact was seen in states with higher BAC limits.
Texting and Driving – Texting while driving is a growing trend, and a national epidemic, quickly becoming one of the country’s top killers. Drivers assume they can handle texting while driving and remain safe, but texting while driving causes:
1. 1,600,000 accidents per year – National Safety Council
2. 330,000 injuries per year – Harvard Center for Risk Analysis Study
3. 11 teen deaths EVERY DAY – Ins. Institute for Hwy Safety Fatality Facts
4. Nearly 25% of ALL car accidents
Texting while driving is:
2. The same as driving after 4 beers – National Hwy Transportation Safety Admin.
3. The number one driving distraction reported by teen drivers
Texting while driving:
1. Makes you 23X more likely to crash – National Hwy Transportation Safety Admin.
2. Is the same as driving blind for 5 seconds at a time – VA. Tech Transportation Institute
3. Takes place by 800,000 drivers at any given time across the country
4. Slows your brake reaction speed by 18% – HumanFactors & Ergonomics Society
5. Leads to a 400% increase with eyes off the road
Mock crashes are more than exercises – they are scenes being played out somewhere in the U.S. a dozen times a day. The start of a new school year is an ideal opportunity for parents and teens to discuss the serious subject of driving responsibly.
Reach Randa Wagner at 419-946-3010, ext. 1803 or on Twitter@MorrCoSentinel.