LIMA — As the owner of a driving school who has helped hundreds of teenagers obtain their licenses through the years, Debbie Lamb has some key points she repeats over and over.
“No. 1 is always wear your seat belt. No. 2 is never text and drive. No. 3 is always stay focused on the driving task,” Lamb said.
She goes on telling teens to obey all traffic laws.
Inexperienced, teens are a high-risk group, and because of it Lamb and police officials stress safe driving to them.
“I stress this as a lifetime goal. You are going to be driving your car when you are 60, 70, 80 years old,” she said.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol reports motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in teens, well ahead of all other types of injuries, disease or violence. Drivers between the ages of 15 and 19 were involved in 15 percent of all traffic crashes in Ohio between 2013 and 2015.
Of that, a teen driver was at fault in 73 percent of the crashes. The crashes resulted in 271 people killed and 40,505 injuries, said Lt. David Brown of the Lima post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Speed and distracted driving are two big factors in the majority of the crashes, Brown said. Failure to yield and running a red light or stop sign were next.
AAA reports poor visual scanning of the road for risks, speeding and distracted driving are the key risk factors for teen driving.
Brown said texting while driving is not the only form of distracted driving. It could be holding a conversation with a back-seat passenger causing the driver to take his or her eyes off the road.
“When you talk about distracted driving, that encompasses a lot of driving behaviors in one,” Brown said.
To cut down on distractions, Ohio law prohibits drivers under 18 from having more than one passenger who is not a family member, Brown said.
Troopers work to educate teen drivers and sometimes speak to teens in driving schools, Brown said.
“We really hit on the fact seat belts are one of the easiest things you can do to protect yourself. We also really push defensive driving techniques. Look around when you are driving,” Brown said.
Distracted driving is a big point Lamb hits on. She said if drivers would just put down their phones and concentrate on driving there would be a lot fewer crashes.
Chief Deputy Jimmy Everett of the Allen County Sheriff’s Office said deputies also tell teens to wear seat belts. While they push to stop distracted driving they know people wearing seat belts have a better chance of surviving traffic crashes.
Another concern deputies press upon teenage drivers, as well as adults, is allowing enough time to get from one place to another especially when the road is wet or covered in snow. They talk about using common sense, which means not driving the posted speed limit if the roadway is covered in snow.
“Just because it says you can go 45 [mph] doesn’t mean you can always drive 45” mph, Everett said.
Lamb also urges teens to driving with a parent in bad weather conditions such as snow or rain so they understand how to drive safely under those conditions rather than have the experience for the first time after they get their license and are alone.
Teen drivers can obtain their temporary permits at 15 years and 6 months old. That allows them to drive with a parent. They are required to log 50 hours behind the wheel with a parent or legal guardian, 10 of that at night, Lamb said.
Driver education for people under 18 is 24 hours in the classroom and eight hours behind the wheel with an instructor, Lamb said.
“There is so much a new driver, inexperienced starting out, needs to know,” she said.
Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon talks to teens in driving schools on a regular basis. He said it gives him a chance to push safety while hitting on crash-causing issues such as distracted driving. The Sheriff’s Office also sets up a booth at the county fair to push for safe driving, he said.
“One of the worst things to do is having to go tell a parent their son or daughter was killed in a traffic crash,” Solomon said.
Putnam County Sheriff Tim Meyer said deputies in his county also talk to students especially around prom and graduation. At those times, the dangers of impaired driving is stressed, but they also talk about distracted driving, he said.
Meyer said most teens wear seat belts and it has saved countless lives, he said.
“They have been raised with seat belts so they are better than their parents,” Meyer said.
Lamb said it’s about forming good habits that will last a lifetime. She challenges her students to go two years without a crash or ticket.
“Once they go two years with good habits, they want to go another two years and then they want to go the rest of their lives,” Lamb said.
Staying crash- and ticket-free also means lower insurance rates, she said.
The State Patrol urges parents to set firm rules for teen drives to cut down on risky driving behaviors.
Teens know if they are doing something wrong behind the wheel. Lamb talks to teens about the decisions they make and tells them to use common sense and respect others. She tells them how important their decisions are behind the wheel not just for themselves but for others on the road.
“I tell them lives are in your hands when you are the driver,” Lamb said. “A car is like a weapon. It’s like a gun. It can kill somebody in a split second.
Reach Greg Sowinski at 567-242-0464 or on Twitter @Lima_Sowinski.