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Published: Monday, 3/4/2013

EDITORIAL

Ohio’s yellow light

In another sign that Ohio and the nation are moving backward on highway safety, teen driving deaths rose during the first half of last year, after nearly a decade of decline.

Deaths among 16 and 17-year-old drivers across the country increased by 19 percent, to 240, the Governors Highway Safety Association reported. In Ohio, the number of such deaths rose from six to nine. Overall, 1,094 people died in crashes statewide last year, an 8 percent increase from 2011.

These statistics should end any complacency Ohio has developed about highway safety. They call for new practices, and possibly new laws. The rise in teen deaths is especially troubling, given the big decreases in such fatalities reported around the country from 2000 to 2010.

New graduated driver’s license laws that restrict inexperienced drivers were often credited with past improvements. Ohio’s law went into effect in 2007.

Ohio also enacted a text-messaging restriction last year — a secondary offense for adults and a primary offense for drivers under 18.

The law bans use of electronic devices while driving for anyone under 18. It’s a safe bet that distracted driving — especially texting with mobile devices — caused part of the rise in teen fatalities around the country, despite laws that restrict the practice.

Last year, a 16-year-old Connecticut driver who was using a cell phone keypad hit and killed a jogger. She was charged with negligent homicide. Parents and schools must do a better job of educating teens to keep their hands on the wheel and off their mobile devices.

In Ohio, one in eight drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 was involved in a crash in 2011. Passing a primary-enforcement seat-belt law would help improve highway safety in Ohio. The state should also consider raising the minimum age for a learner’s permit to 16.

This year, Ohio received a yellow ranking from the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety’s annual Road Map of State Highway Safety Laws. That was an improvement over last year, when the state got a red ranking. Still, new statistics that show increases in fatalities, after years of declines, should remind Ohio not to take a detour on highway safety.



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