ANNAPOLIS – A Montgomery County parent whose son died in a crash on East West Highway in Bethesda two years ago urged state lawmakers Wednesday to put more restrictions on teen-age drivers.
Todd Waymon said he supports legislation sponsored by Delegates William Bronrott, D-Montgomery, and Adrienne Mandel, D-Montgomery, to limit minors with provisional drivers’ licenses from carrying more than two passengers under age 21. The bill also would require everyone in a car driven by a teen to wear a seatbelt.
Waymon’s son and only child, Matthew, was one of six passengers, all without seat belts, in a Subaru Outback driven by Michael Schoenfeld, then 16, which crashed into two other cars in July 1998.
Schoenfeld was speeding along East West Highway when the Outback swerved out of control, crossed into oncoming traffic and overturned onto a truck and another car. The driver of the truck, John Wert, was killed, along with Matthew and another teen, Irn Williams.
“Some horsing around, some recklessness” occurred causing the inexperienced driver to lose control, Waymon told lawmakers.
Schoenfeld was found responsible for the three deaths and was sentenced in September to 30 days in a juvenile detention facility.
This recklessness is not uncommon among young drivers, Bronrott said. “This age group is the least experienced, highest in risk-taking and the least likely to buckle up,” he said.
With the new restrictions in place, future accidents like his son’s could be prevented, Waymon said.
“It’s not too late to cut down on this carnage,” he said.
Mandel agreed that the legislation, presented before the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee, would minimize distractions created by having multiple passengers. New drivers would better be able to concentrate on the road.
“It often takes a law to ensure that our students are not part of that `stupid stuff,'” Mandel said, using the words of a student involved in an unrelated accident.
The proposal does have some detractors, however. Delegate Darren Swain, D- Prince George’s, was concerned the state would be “legislating the behavior of these kids.”
Communities and families relying on young drivers for carpooling and performing family chores also would be affected, he said.
Bronrott said his bill exempts immediate family members, allowing more than two teen passengers in a car. Difficulty in enforcing the law was a sticking point of the legislation for Delegate Theodore Sophocleus, D-Anne Arundel. Giving police the authority to pull over any young-looking driver in order to enforce the restrictions smacks of profiling, Sophocleus said. Profiling, a practice of Maryland police, has drawn fire from civil rights groups.
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