Teen Driving Deaths – Part 2 

Catherine Pegram

Nearly a third of all deadly accidents on the road in Maine involve young drivers, between the ages of 16 and 24. It’s a frightening fact the Secretary of State’s office is trying to change with tougher rules for beginning drivers. Some students at Hermon High School who lost two of their friends to a deadly crash last fall say they’d welcome those changes. And so would local driving instructors.This is no ordinary study session for these Hermon High School students. They’re swapping stories about their friends, 16 year-old Jimmy McPhearson and 14-year-old R.J. Picken. The soon-to-be step brothers were killed when the car Jimmy was driving crashed into a tree in Carmel last November.Kyle Hornyak says, “They were always together. Where there was Jimmy, there was RJ. Where there was RJ, there was Jimmy.””They weren’t going out to be reckless or anything. They were going out to do stuff for school,” says Derek Bond.Police pin part of the blame on speed and inexperience.The deaths woke up many to the dangers of teenage driving. It’s another reason the Secretary of State wants to strength the rules. Nash Roy says, “Just because of the way teenagers are, it might upset people if it took them longer to get their license and stuff. But when something like this happens, you have to think about the big picture.”Sally King owns Drivers Edge in Bangor. She says immaturity, mixed in with a lot of other factors, are making the drive more dangerous.”Our roads have changed tremendously, speed limits, cars, the technology, the affluency of families being able to give their teenagers a car and have it on the road.”King and other local instructors believe the state needs at least to double the time students have to practice driving with an adult to 70 hours.Parental involvement is also key.Dawn Byrne-Richmond with TGFTIB Driving School says, “I’m encouraging parents to bring their kids downtown, bring their kids out of the mall, bring the kids to the interstate, get them involved in city driving.”Dan Frazell with Northeast Auto & Cycle School says parents should be required to go back to class briefly, too, before trying to teach their kids.”If you have horrible habits, you text, you talk on the phone, you drink coffee, you do all of the things you’re not supposed to do. All your daughter has gained is more time to learn the wrong things.”Consistent standards for driving schools, even requiring students to do homework, could also make a difference. Gerry Clifford with Drive Right Academy says it’s the most important class a teenager will ever take. “No kid is going to get killed because he gets 750 on the SAT, but if he runs off a left turn out there and hits somebody head on, somebody’s going to die.”Jimmy and RJ’s friends say their deaths have certainly changed their own driving habits. Roy says, “All of the time I’m driving now, I look down at the speedometer and I’ll be going 5 under and I’ll be like, why am I going 5 under. Then I’ll purposefully speed up and I’ll look down 5 minutes later and I’m going 5 under, again.”Joey Martin says, “If I have something I need to adjust, like on the radio or my seat belt or visor, I make sure I do that while I’m stopped, not while I’m driving.”They hope it won’t take more tragedies like these for young drivers to accept some new rules of the road.As Hornyak says, “It’s better not to have your license than not to have your life.”Members of the Maine Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association believe another way to help teenage drivers is through stricter standards for those learning to become driving instructors. The Secretary of State hopes some of the new licensing rules can be in place by the end of March, others will be passed on to lawmakers.