Save Our Teen Drivers

Advocating for driver's education changes. Educating the public on the problem. Finding a solution that saves lives.

Deathly crash may lead to teen driving legislation in New Mexico

Posted by lapearce on July 15, 2009

The teens car after the fatal crash

The teens' car after the fatal crash

It was after midnight on Sunday, June 28 in Santa Fe New Mexico. Five teens were driving to a house party having just left a Sonic restaurant. In the other direction was driving 28-year-old Scott Owens with a blood alcohol level of .16, twice the legal limit. He crossed over the center divider in front of the car full of teens. In an instant four young lives were lost, and the only survivor left in critical condition. As for Owens, as so often happens in these cases, received only minor injuries.

Crashes like this often times lead to public outcry. Instead of outcry over drunk driving, however, in this case, the outcry is for better restrictions on teen drivers. Maybe if New Mexico didn’t allow provisional drivers to have passengers only one teen would have died that night. Maybe if New Mexico didn’t allow provisional drivers to drive after 10 p.m. no lives would have been lost.

Problem with that thinking is: it already is illegal in New Mexico for teen drivers to do these things.

So then why fight for more laws against teens when the problem in this case was a fully licensed adult who was driving drunk? David McGinnis, a driving instructor who lobbied 10 years ago for the graduated drivers liecnse in New Mexico says the problem isn’t the law: it’s the parents. If parents were enforcing the GDL on their teens, perhaps the kids would not have been on the road when Owens went into oncoming traffic. Or, perhaps they did have strict rules that were being broken at the time, we don’t know.

Lawmakers are considering putting stickers on teens cars to show they have provisional licenses or increase the restriction time until the drivers are 18. The only way these provisions would have prevented this crash would have been if the teens were pulled over by a police officer who saw the sticker and noticed that the teens were breaking curfew and passenger laws.

New Mexico already has very comprehensive drunk driving laws. The state was the first in the nation to require ignition interlock for all convicted drunk drivers. The system does not allow the car to start if the driver has been drinking. There isn’t much room for improvement on drunk driving legislation in New Mexico, which is perhaps why this crash is being used as a cry for better teen driving laws, instead of better drunk driving laws.

It is true that if GDL laws were being followed this crash would not have happened. However, if Owens had not been drinking and driving, the crash would not have happened either. He’s the one at fault here and he’s the one who should be, and will be, punished for what happened. Four lives were lost because of bad decisions that were made, but putting stickers on cars will not bring those lives back. McGinnis is right, the answer is to enforce the laws that already exist before putting more restrictions on new drivers that run the risk of not being followed. That is the best way to honor the lives lost on June 28.

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