Teen driver bill will be re-introduced in 2000

Posted on October 29, 1999 at 11:29:09:

If Senate Bill 597 had passed during the last General Assembly session, young Mikhail Barg most likely would be alive today. Instead, at age 17, his parents, relatives and friends are mourning the passing of another teenager -- gone too soon.

Mikhail, of Montgomery County, died Oct. 17 from injuries sustained in a violent car accident three days earlier. He never came out of the coma. Luckily, Mikhail was the only one killed in the accident that left his car looking like a big crushed tangle of metal and rubber. The sight of the crashed vehicle is sickening.

The details, according to police reports, are such: Mikhail was driving his two younger friends -- one 16, the other 14, to McDonaldís for some lunch. But before the teens were able to enjoy a Big Mac and fries, they both found themselves fighting for their lives because Mikhail, according to police reports, was speeding. He was apparently trying to overtake two other cars filled with teens. Was he trying to be cool showing off his driving prowess by passing those his own age? Or was he just too hungry? Weíll never know since Mikhail can never tell us. Perhaps his young passengers can, but will they be too traumatized to remember?

One teen on the scene told a Washington Post reporter ď...Itís just
crazy...Iíll be thinking about this for a long time.Ē

That young man and the many other Seneca Valley High School students that witnessed the terrible accident should never have had to see such a horrifying sight. It will no doubt be in their thoughts and dreams for many days and years to come.

Unfortunately, incidents like these keep occurring and it is my steadfast belief that once teenagers pile into a car, they encourage the driver to be less than careful. To a teen, getting behind the wheel of a car is a major thrill. And itís a bigger thrill to joyride. Unfortunately, joyriding all too often ends in injury and or, in this latest case, death. The proposed legislation I referred to in my opening was a bill (SB 597) which would require the Motor Vehicle Administration to restrict a new minor driver from transporting other minors for a specified period of time. Iíve introduced this bill for the past five years and I will do it again this year. Some day, maybe my colleagues in the Senate who saw fit to kill this legislation will realize as I and many others have that it will save lives.

A young man in Calvert County last year was playing a road game with another teen before he ran straight on into an innocent driver coming the opposite way. Everyone in the youngsterís car died as well as the unknowing driver. Calvertís residents still mourn the death of those people in that needlessly violent crash.

Too many Maryland teens have been killed because their passengers were egging the driver on to speed or play road games or to pay more attention to what was on the radio than keep their eyes on the road. I see young people all the time laughing and joking amongst one another while riding down our roads. Iíve seen young drivers turn around for far too many precious seconds to tell something to someone in the back seat of their car. I know you have too.

Some critics of this bill say it is a Civil Rights violation to the teen. My response is that it is not limiting the teen from driving, it is simply limiting the number of people they have in their car.

Driving is not easy. It is not something that can be accomplished by mastering a book or a class. To be a good driver, you need experience, patience and focus. Iím been driving for more years than I care to remember yet when I get behind the wheel, I donít feel infallible. Every winter for instance, I have to relearn how to drive in the snow. It takes experience to adjust to driving on ice and snow which is very different than driving when there is not inclement weather. During each new winter, I have to tell myself that when conditions get bad, I have to drive slower and give myself more time to get to my destination. This takes experience and patience.

Thatís something Iíve learned over time and no one can tell me that a teen can master a car in all types of conditions at all times of night by graduating from a driving school and passing the test to get their license. This is the time when they need to be concentrating the most. Having their peers in the car next to them hinders that concentration.

So once the General Assembly session convenes on the second Wednesday of January 2000, I will re-introduce my bill to limit teen passengers. I will once again go in front of the Senate Judicial Committee with these sad tales of teens dying too young and present them with potential legislation to stop irresponsible teen driving. In the past, the Judicial Committee has turned a deaf ear to my bill. One day, hopefully, this year, they will decide that had my bill passed in 1999, they could have prevented Mikhail Barg from dying one of the most horrible kinds of deaths imaginable.

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