Legislator wants to change teen driving laws after Chelsea wreck

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 7, 2007

State legislators plan to review driving regulations in this year&8217;s upcoming legislative session, after a deadly crash three months ago threw one Chelsea teen from a vehicle when it collided with a train.

One fact they will pay close attention to is the number of teen drivers involved in fatal car crashes in recent years. The State Highway Safety Coordinating Committee, chaired by Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, wants to see fewer teens behind the wheel of cars that end up in fatal crashes.

The crash that killed 15-year-old Hannah Yeager occurred after an argument over an iPod. There were six teens in the vehicle including Yeager and the driver.

While it may not be a fact that teens are worse drivers than adults, some people blame inexperience or inattention for the accidents that do involve teenagers.

Mike O&8217;Berry has been teaching driver education at Pelham High School for the past two years.

&8220;They say you have to be driving for 10 years to really be an experienced driver,&8221; O&8217;Berry said. &8220;These kids are far from that.&8221; O&8217;Berry said he hopes legislators pass a law that will at least lower the number of people allowed in a teenager&8217;s car.

In 2006, four teens in Shelby County were the drivers of vehicles involved in fatal crashes, according to the Alabama Department of Public Safety.

Many teens are also killed in traffic accidents. Two were killed in traffic accidents in Shelby County and 155 were killed statewide last year.

About 10 percent of all crashes are related to teen drivers. That may not seem like a high percentage but for safety officials and other concerned adults, it&8217;s 10 percent too much.

&8220;Most teens 16-18 their [lead] cause of death is traffic accidents and a lot of it is because they don&8217;t wear seat belts,&8221; O&8217;Berry said.

The committee is also looking at restricting another distractions. They want to prohibit drivers younger than 18 from using cell phones while driving.

&8220;Distractions from driving are also a concern,&8221; O&8217;Berry said. &8220;If there are three to four kids in a car the driver can&8217;t fully concentrate on what they are doing.&8221;

Several bills will also target drivers of all ages including one to increase the penalty for not wearing a seat belt to $50, one for tougher penalties for driving without insurance and one to create a &8220;super drunk&8221; law which would carry greater penalties for anyone with a 0.15 percent blood alcohol content.

The state legislature goes back into session March 6.