- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2004

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — More than 50 Maryland lawmakers are supporting a bill that would prohibit young people from driving other teen passengers during the first six months they have their licenses.

The legislation, backed by safety groups and parents whose children have died in car accidents, is aimed at decreasing the number of teenage deaths on roads. It includes an exemption that would allow teen drivers to transport siblings or other young relatives.

The bill was introduced in the state Senate and House of Delegates and is to get its first hearing Wednesday. More than 40 delegates and 10 senators have signed on as sponsors.

Statistics show that teen drivers are more likely to be involved in a crash when they have passengers than when driving alone. And the more passengers, the greater the risk.

Michael Vito, 17, and his two passengers died five years ago when he was racing a friend’s car on a narrow country road in Calvert County. Michael, who was driving a Mustang at 91 mph, swerved into the path of a U-Haul truck.

“They had no fear, but teenagers are not exempt from death,” said Kathryn Oroszo, his mother. “There are always distractions: They’re talking, they’re smoking, they’re dealing with traffic, and they’re trying to be cool through all this.”

Miss Oroszo, who told her son not to drive his friends, thinks her son and his passengers would still be alive if Maryland had tougher restrictions on young drivers.

“The fact of the matter is they’re not behaving in the car and they’re not making the best decisions,” Miss Oroszo said. “That’s why it’s so important to have these types of restrictions on our children, because they are children. They’re not adults.”

Delegate William A. Bronrott, Montgomery County Democrat, said teens need to be protected from traffic accidents, which are the leading cause of death for those ages 16 to 19, according to statistics.

“We need to have the passenger restriction for this very brief period of time so these least-experienced, highest risk-taking drivers get more time behind the wheel before they put themselves in situations that are, in effect, rolling party barges on our highways,” Mr. Bronrott said.

Similar proposals failed to pass in recent years, but supporters say the measure has a better chance this year because legislators added the family-member exemption.

“Someone said to me it’s really inconvenient to restrict teenagers from carpooling their friends or brothers and sisters,” said Jackie Gillan, vice president of the Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

“It’s really inconvenient planning a funeral, too.”

Some teenagers wonder how the law would be enforced if the legislation passed.

“I think it’s a joke,” said Nick Rossi, 16, who is enrolled in B&E; Driving School in Towson.

“What are they going to do — pull over everyone who doesn’t look like a sibling?” he said.

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