Limits on teen drivers pass state committee

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

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COLUMBUS — Ohio is one step closer to keeping inexperienced teen drivers off the road.

A conference committee yesterday reached a compromise on Senate Bill 35, which would make teenagers wait until age 18 to get a full-fledged driver’s license, while allowing them limited access to wheels at 15 1/2.

Ohio law states that any 16-year-old who can pass the state test can get a license.

“We’ve done something today that will save lives in Ohio,” said state Sen. Bruce Johnson (R., Columbus), the bill’s sponsor. He is running for city attorney here.

The bill had been approved earlier this year in different forms by the House and Senate. The conference committee ironed out the chambers’ differences.

The measure must be approved by both chambers in its new form. The Senate will consider it Tuesday.

Under the proposal, teens would be able to receive a temporary driving permit when they are 15 1/2. They would have to log 50 hours of driving time with an adult, at least 10 of those at night, and wait six months before applying for a probationary driver’s license.

The probationary license would be good until age 18, but would be more easily revoked or suspended than an adult’s license. For example, three moving violations within the two-year probationary period would result in a one-year suspension.

The bill has been supported by auto safety groups like AAA, who say that inexperienced teenagers are among the biggest threats on the road.

Last year, 293 teenagers were killed in Ohio in traffic accidents. Car crashes are the leading cause of death nationwide for people in the 15 to 24 age range.

The major sticking point in negotiations was a restriction on nighttime driving for teens. The Senate version of the bill banned drivers under age 18 from being on the roads between midnight and 5 a.m. A House committee removed that language before passing the bill in June.

The conference committee’s compromise allows temporary permit holders to drive between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. if a parent or legal guardian is in the vehicle.

It allows exceptions for work or school functions and for emergencies.

Mike Dawson, spokesman for Governor Voinovich, said the governor supports the concepts behind the bill but will wait for the General Assembly to vote on the final version to decide whether to sign it.