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Officials hope to curb accidents by raising driving age
By Andrew Dys The Herald

(Published January 21 2002)

Different year, almost the same story.

The headlines might say "Teen driver killed in wreck," or "High school student dies in car crash."

Yet those who have to brave the realities of facing another dead teen-ager's family want action. Raising the legal driving age in South Carolina is the answer, many say, an answer long overdue.

While only 2 percent of the state's drivers are under the age of 18, those teens make up 4 percent of the drivers involved in fatal collisions. They also make up 7 percent of drivers involved in all accidents, according to 2000 traffic data from the S.C. Department of Public Safety.

Rep. Becky Meacham-Richardson, R-Fort Mill, has introduced a bill into the S.C. House of Rep-resentatives to raise the minimum driving age to 16 years old. Lancaster's Buford High School Principal James Jordan says it's about time.

The teen-age girl who lived down the street from Jordan and baby-sat his kids years ago died in a car crash. Buford High lost two cheerleaders in a car crash a few years later. Then in August, two more students were killed in a two-car crash where one driver was 15 and the other was 16.

"Kids driving at 15 years old is just too young, period," Jordan. "I've been to these accident scenes, and I'll never forget them. They had the whole world ahead of them one day, and the next day, nothing."

Jordan - who has written letters to several state legislators urging action be taken to raise the minimum age - advocates raising the permit age to 16, the age for a restricted license to 17, with opportunity for a full license at 18 years old.

"These kids need more supervision before we turn them loose," Jordan said.

Buford High also has teamed with Healthy Lancaster, a private organization funded by grants from the J. Marion Sims Foundation, in asking teen drivers to join the "I Promise Pro-gram." Teens and parents will sign yearlong safe driving contracts and their cars will display decals asking other drivers to call a monitoring service with reports of the teen's driving.

But it's not just Lancaster County that has its youngest drivers - and passengers with those drivers - dying.

A 16-year old Rock Hill High junior who was a passenger in a car driven by a 17-year-old died in a December crash.

A 10-year-old Clover girl died a few days earlier after the car driven by her 16-year-old sister was involved in a head-on collision.

A 15-year-old boy from York died in September after the car he was riding in - driven by a 16-year-old - crashed.

With more than 30 years experience working car crashes and notifying families, York Police Chief Bill Mobley said he has no problem with raising the driving age to 16, saying another year of maturity would help. Yet Mobley understands that a license means freedom, and most drivers are responsible.

"Whether a driver is 15 or 16, that is a very impressionable age," Mobley said. "Kids get a license and with that license comes independence. Our society is a mobile one."

Contact Andrew Dys at 329-4065 or adys@heraldonline.com. Herald report Gene Crider contributed to this article.

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