Tragic Fatal Ohio Car Crash Involving 16-year-old Driver a Somber Reminder to Our Teens

All the five friends and band mates wanted to do was to take a break from their high school marching band practice and grab a bite to eat together before getting back to their musical work.

Instead, tragedy struck when their car, being driven by a 16-year-old by in the group, went off the road about 18 miles west of Columbus, Ohio, struck a fence and rolled at least once, according to a story in The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.

The crash killed David Phillips III, a 15-year-old who was riding in the front passenger seat of the 1993 Saab, while the driver, Trent Burchett, and three other teen-aged passengers were injured, the story reported. All of the teens are members of the Hilliard Bradley High School marching band.

David Phillips III, image credit Facebook

Now Burchett could face criminal charges in connection with the crash and the death of his friend because Ohio is one of many states across the nation that forbids 16-year-old drivers from operating a vehicle with more than one passenger aboard unless the additional passengers are family members. The only exception to the rule is that more than one non-family member is allowed to be in the vehicle if a parent, guardian or custodian of the teen driver is also in the vehicle, according to the story.

“About 64,000 16-year-olds are licensed in Ohio, but officials don’t track how many violate the passenger restrictions that have been in place since 2007, according to the state Department of Public Safety,” the Dispatch reported.

The car that the boys were riding in “was seen driving northbound on Amity Road at a high rate of speed when the driver lost control,” according to a story from NBC Channel 4 News.

The crash is certainly a tragedy no matter how you look at it. If nothing else, it should serve as a reminder to us all that the special licensing rules that are aimed at teen drivers should be fully complied with to keep our teens safer.

In Ohio, where this crash occurred, a Graduated Driver’s License program (GDL) means that teen drivers have limited driving privileges until they turn 18 and have more experience under their belts. The reasons for such laws include that “statistics indicate a higher rate of accidents/fatalities to and from school when groups of teenagers are riding in one vehicle,” according to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

The passenger limitations law is a primary violation in Ohio, meaning that police can pull over a vehicle solely for violating the passenger limit law without any other violations being exhibited. The charge is a minor misdemeanor in the state.

Pennsylvania also has Graduated Driver Licensing laws, which were toughened in 2011 in an effort to make teen drivers safer.

The new Pennsylvania rules mirror those of other states such as Ohio, where only one passenger under 18 may ride with the teen driver, unless the additional passengers are family members.

New Jersey law includes the same requirement, according to the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety’s Teen Driving Web site.

“Studies show that a young driver’s risk of being involved in a car crash is highest within his/her first 12-24 months of driving,” the agency reports. “An average of 6,000 teens die in car crashes nationally each year.”

And many more are injured, according to the agency. “An additional 300,000 teens sustain injuries in crashes; many of those injuries are serious and often life-altering. In fact, car crashes are the leading cause of brain injury in teens. By delaying full driving privileges so that teens can gain driving experience under low-risk conditions, comprehensive GDL programs can reduce these deaths and injuries by approximately 40 percent. The ultimate goal of the GDL program is to protect the lives of young drivers-and the lives of their passengers and others on the road.”

Teen drivers in Delaware also must abide by the same rule.

Yes, the Ohio tragedy certainly could still have happened if only one other teen was a passenger in that car. But the crash must be seen by all of us as a stark reminder that putting more than two young teens in a moving vehicle can be more dangerous because it can inspire them to act recklessly, resulting in a potential tragedy.

Some parents may not see the harm in allowing their teen drivers to operate a motor vehicle with more than one other non-related teen as passengers, or to allow their teen to ride in a vehicle with more than one other non-related teen. The problem is that this is a gamble, and the existing laws in many states don’t allow it.

Our hearts go out to the families in Ohio who are grieving today over the crash that killed one of their own.

We hope that the lessons of this tragic crash can prevent similar horrors in our communities.

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