Teen-driving bill is misguided, reader says


March 23, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ON FEB. 24, I supported the passage of Senate Bill No. 233 in my column. This legislation would prohibit new teen-age drivers from having passengers other than siblings in the car for the first six months of their licenses.

Daniel D. Hetlage thinks that this legislation (and my support of it) is misguided.

"Anytime a child is injured or killed, we owe it to ourselves to look for the root cause and make changes that will prevent further loss of life. That is what good people and good parents do," he said.

"What often happens instead, however, is that the wrong reasons are attributed to the cause, and before we know it, we've passed a law or laws that make little sense. In this case, a bill will soon become law if we don't stop and apply some common sense to the situation."

Supporters of the legislation point to a car accident last month that killed two teen-age girls, wondering whether the proposed law might have saved their lives. Hetlage argues that many factors, other than driver inexperience, might have been responsible.

"As there were no survivors, it has been surmised that the driver was distracted and drove into the wrong lane and was hit head-on by a bus," he said. "What legislators don't take into account was how poorly the intersection might have been marked or how much stimuli even an experienced driver has to take in at this and [other] intersections. Could it possibly have been that the driver, while inexperienced, misjudged the proper lane she was to enter? Could it have been the signage, or lack thereof, that made the choice of which lane less than clear?"

"If distraction were the root cause, then how can we simply target teen-agers? I'd argue that adults are even more distracted and tend to do far worse that chat or giggle with their friends," he argued, such as eating, applying makeup and talking on cell phones.

I still support this legislation, even though I believe parents can, and should, institute rules that would make the law unnecessary. Although Mr. Hetlage makes good points about distracted adult drivers, the difference between adult and teen-age drivers is experience.

Presumably, teen-agers do not have the same judgment abilities as older drivers. If I'm encountering a tricky driving situation, I will hush everyone in the vehicle so I can concentrate on the road.

Teen-agers might not have the same ability to quickly judge a situation, tune others out or understand that other passengers in the vehicle can decrease their reaction time.

By Mr. Hetlage's reasoning, we would have no drinking age because there are adults who don't drink responsibly, and yet there are plenty of teen-agers who would drink responsibly (if given the opportunity to do so legally). Rightly or wrongly, our government makes certain assumptions about people according to their age. But ultimately, the overriding consideration needs to be safety for teen-age drivers and those who share the roads with them.

What's your worst?

In my journeys along the highways and byways of Howard County recently, I've encountered a mishmash of worrisome driving behaviors from blowing by a loading school bus to failing to signal lane changes to throwing litter out of a car window.

What worst-driving behaviors would you put in your Top Ten list?

To the back, please

Frank Irizawa notes that congestion and traffic in shopping centers have gotten worse "with the rising popularity of SUVs and large minivans that take up more space, block visibility and need to be backed into the parking space for safety reasons. Large SUVs are a safety hazard because if your normal-sized car is parked next to one, you have to back out blind since it completely blocks your view."

So what solution to this parking lot problem does he propose? "I believe in segregation in this case," he said. "All oversized vehicles should park in a `large vehicle only' section of parking lots. By `oversized,' I mean vehicles that block the view of normal-size vehicles."

I'm glad you cleared up the difference between oversized and normal, Mr. Irizawa. And the idea might not be a bad one because regulation-size parking spots are almost too small for most SUVs and minivans. Having wider spots toward the back of a parking lot might not be a bad idea.

But whatever you think about Mr. Irizawa's suggestion, he is right in that everyone needs to be more careful in parking lots. The recent death of a woman in Vienna, Va. and injuries of pedestrians in parking lots are a reminder that this is true.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison@us.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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