Glenelg's Tragic Year HOWARD COUNTY

December 31, 1992

It's been a bad year for the students and staff of Glenelg High School. From last February through November, three students and a recent graduate of the school died in car accidents. The site of one accident was the same place where a Glenelg cheerleader perished in a wreck three years earlier.

Frightened and distraught by all the carnage, residents of Howard and neighboring Carroll counties have begun a petition drive to raise the state's minimum driving age from 16 to 17. David Myers of Woodbine, the campaign's organizer and the father of a Glenelg student, says another year on the minimum driving age would "add that much more maturity and experience to the driver." Two national insurance groups agree the minimum age should be raised, citing statistics showing car accidents as the top killer of American youths.

Studies show the toll was even worse as recently as 11 years ago. But then the drinking age was raised to 21. SADD and MADD chapters began to multiply. The designated driver became as much a party fixture as the keg. Consequently, the number of 15- to 19-year-olds who died in alcohol-related car accidents dropped from 6,280 in 1981 to 2,170 in 1988. (Alcohol, it should be noted, wasn't involved in the local cases mentioned above.)

To continue this progress by raising the driving age to 17 is a tempting idea -- but a flawed one.

The plain fact is that people in their late teens, not to mention experienced adult drivers, are capable of driving as dangerously as 16-year-olds. A Baltimore County police spokesman reports that recklessness appears more common to drivers in their early 20s than to teen motorists. Besides, many 16-year-olds must drive themselves to work or school. It makes little sense to tell a kid he or she can hold a job but isn't responsible enough to drive a car.

Maryland already issues a provisional license that forbids people under 18 from driving from midnight to 5 a.m., unless with an adult. They must also go a year without any traffic violations before they can apply for an unrestricted license.

Stricter enforcement of these and other existing regulations, especially the drinking-age law too often ignored by youths and some bar owners, seems the most logical approach to this problem. While it won't end the carnage, it could spare high schools such as Glenelg from more years like this one.

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