TEENAGERS are multi-taskers. They talk on the phone while watching TV; they listen to music while studying. It's how they live their lives. No big deal, right?
But when they sit behind the wheel of a car, trying to concentrate on anything other than driving can be fatal. That's a very big deal, and one reason a new Ohio law that goes into effect April 3 is welcome, although some teens will consider it too restrictive.
Among the bill's provisions are significant changes in when, and with whom, 16-year-olds may drive.
They will be allowed only one non-family member as a passenger. They may not, in most situations, drive between midnight and 6 a.m., and passengers 15 and under riding in the back seat will have to buckle up or be in a booster seat, a major expansion of the present rule mandating restraints only for youngsters 3 and under.
The statistics are both harrowing and compelling when making the case for these new rules. Traffic accidents are the leading killer of teens in America, according to recent statistics. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says about 8,000 teens are killed and more than 300,000 injured in fatal accidents each year.
And while the number of fatalities in Ohio is declining, the state still recorded 102 teen traffic deaths in 2005.
That's a total the new regulations should help to reduce, because studies find that, for example, while a teen is two times as likely to get into a fatal wreck with one passenger, when there are two or more passengers the risk rises to four to five times as likely.
The new law will almost certainly mean more teen-driven cars on the roads, because starting in April a 16-year-old cannot drive a group of friends to the mall or to a movie. But Ohio Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Tony Bradshaw makes the pertinent point that while there will be more cars, there will be fewer distractions in each of those vehicles.
Penalties for violation of the regulations governing nonrelated passengers aren't going to be severe - a fine of up to $150. But a 16-year-old guilty of a moving violation such as speeding will have to go back to having a parent or adult guardian ride along - a humbling punishment, we would guess, for many teens.
Ohio isn't alone in having these restrictions. Just the opposite, in fact. The state will become the 36th to put a similar passenger limit in place. Nor is it in any way remarkable for states to impose measures to regulate driver and passenger safety. Mandatory use of seatbelts is the obvious example.
Michigan, unfortunately, is not on board with similar teen safety legislation. As recently as 2005, lawmakers failed to impose passenger restrictions for young drivers.
There still will be distractions for young drivers: iPods, cell phones, CD players, radios. And no law can mandate common sense. But Ohio's new rules for 16-year-old drivers are appropriate. While some teens might not like the regulations, it could be their life that the new rules save.