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Our View: Tougher law saving lives but not all

Updated: April 23, 2013 2:14PM



All the trends in highway safety for teenagers are positive. Statistics can be so reassuring.

But the fact that driving deaths among Illinois teens are down nearly 60 percent over the past five years is little comfort for the horror of March 11 when four teens drowned near Wilmington when the car they were in plunged into a swollen creek.

The human heart has little capacity to rationally place such tragedy into an orderly file for comparison. How can we take solace that such events have been diminished by good laws and better education?

Four children are dead for reasons no one will ever know, and the magnificence of the lives they would have led has been stolen from them, and from us.

It was on a wet rural road, four teens together in a small car. A slick spot on the bridge over Forked Creek might’ve caught the 17-year-old driver off guard. Perhaps she was distracted by one or more of the others with her.

If the possibility of such tragedies does not frighten teen drivers into heightened alert, it certainly creates terror for parents.

Illinois has taken strong, positive steps to give the youngest drivers a greater chance to gain more experience and ability before becoming fully licensed. The graduated driver licensing program, initiated in 2008, requires teens to have time behind the wheel under the watchful eye of their parents or other adult relatives.

We commend the Legislature for passing the tougher law and encourage continued refinements to nurture teens’ driving skills. It has saved lives.

But harsh reality endures. Such laws only give teens a chance. Inexperienced teen drivers still can ignore the rules, including the one that prohibits them from having more than one other teen in the car during their first year of driving. That’s a factor that nearly doubles traffic fatality rates.

A total of 3,115 American teenagers died in vehicle crashes in 2010. That’s 64 percent fewer than in 1975, 10 percent fewer than in 2009. We’re heartened by those stats. Safety is improving.

But then a tragedy occurs, such as this month’s, and we take little comfort in that knowledge.



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