Teen driving accidents fall in wake of graduated licensing program

Ellie Stamerjohn, 15, gets practice behind the wheel as her mother, Susie, offers advice. The Quincy Notre Dame sophomore must practice a minimum of 50 hours on the road and be supervised by a parent to get a license. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Mar. 23, 2013 12:12 am Updated: Apr. 6, 2013 2:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Susie Stamerjohn and her youngest child, Ellie, have been spending a lot of quality mother-daughter time lately.

For Ellie, a sophomore at Quincy Notre Dame, to get her driver's license, she has to let Mom ride shotgun while she racks up hours behind the wheel. Thanks to Illinois' graduated driver's license program, teenagers have to spend much more time behind the wheel than their parents or even their brothers or sisters did before they were licensed for the first time.

A 15-year-old like Ellie has practice a minimum of 50 hours, including 10 hours of night driving, supervised by a parent.

"At first, my Mom was nervous and anxious," Ellie said. "Now, she's calm and so am I."

There have been several high-profile accidents throughout the country this month where several teens died in multiple accidents. Five teens in Texas died in a crash the same day as an accident in Ohio that killed six and a day before a crash in Illinois killed four. Three teenagers died a few days later in Indiana when police said the drivers of two pickups ran a four-way stop and collided.

The deadly accidents serve as horrific reminders of the perils of teen driving but contrast statistics indicating that fatal crashes among teen drivers have declined during the past decade, according to a report released last month by the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices.

The report also indicates that deaths of younger teen drivers sharply increased during the first six months of last year, reversing a 10-year trend.

There were 435 16-year-old drivers killed in 2000, according to the report, but by 2011 that had dropped to 173. During the same time period, deaths among 17-year-old drivers dropped from 564 to 250.

But deaths of 16- and 17-year-old drivers in traffic accidents during the first six months of 2012 rose a combined 19 percent during the same period of the previous year, from 202 to 240 deaths. The report, which does not include passenger deaths, is based on preliminary state data that sometime changes.

Despite the recent increase, overall teen driving deaths are significantly lower than they were a decade ago, when teen drivers traveled with fewer state-imposed restrictions, including limits on driving with teen passengers and driving at night.

Put into law on Jan. 1, 2008, Illinois' graduated driver's license program seems to be making a difference when it comes to helping teens avoid accidents. Since the implementation of the program, accidents involving teen drivers throughout the state has dropped by 23 percent .

In 2008, teen drivers between the ages of 15 and 19 were involved in 6,534 accidents. That number has continued to trend downward. In 2011, the latest statics released by the Secretary of State's office, there were 5,027 accidents that involved teen drivers.

Ellie is the last of Scott and Susie Stamerjohn's four children to get their license. The couple's two oldest son's, Drew and Chris, weren't subjected to the graduated licensing program. The couple's youngest son, Luke, turned 16 right as the program took effect.

During the permit phase, when drivers are 15, they must get parent or guardian consent. They have to be enrolled in a driver's education course and must pass vision and written tests. They can't drive during the overnight hours and must hold the permit for nine months, which is longer than the previous three-month window. They must practice at least 50 hours on the road, including 10 night hours, and can't be convicted of any driving violations.

Once they turn 16, drivers can enter the initial licensing phase. Teens must maintain a conviction-free record for at least six months before their 18th birthday before they can move to the state's full licensing phase. Any traffic conviction during the initial licensing phase can extend some restrictions beyond the driver's 18th birthday. They can't drive during the overnight hours and are limited to having just one person under the age of 20 in the car unless the passenger is a relative.

"I love it," Susie Stamerjohn said of the graduated license program. "I think it is all good. I love the fact that they can't load up the car with kids and you have to keep track of the driving. They have them drive under all kinds of conditions."

According to statistics provided by the Quincy Police Department, teens in Quincy are being safer on the roads. There was a precipitous drop in the number of accidents involving teens on Quincy roads from 2011 to 2012. In 2011, teens were involved in 292 accidents. That number fell to 212 last year.

Ellie Stamerjohn will be one of those teen drivers when she turns 16 in May. She said spending so much time behind the wheel with her parents along for the ride is "good and bad."

"It is necessary," she said.


The Associate Press contributed to this report.