The best way for legislators to tackle problems with teenaged drivers is to double the number of DWI checkpoints and step up enforcement of seatbelt and speeding laws, according to a report by a group of graduate students at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Three of the 10 students who conducted the study presented the findings from their semester-long research project to the House Environmental Affairs Committee on Thursday.

Last year, the General Assembly passed a series of changes to state laws requiring new drivers to gain more driving experience with a supervising driver. The UMBC report contained suggestions for further changes.
Committee Vice Chairman James E. Malone Jr. said the legislators are in the process of submitting more bills targeting teen drivers.

“The governor, members of the committee, even myself, are looking to put more legislation in with teen driving,” he said. “We’re looking at what we can go ahead and do to tighten things up more.”
Maryland teens were involved in over 22,000 accidents resulting in 146 deaths in 2003, according to the UMBC report.

While the UMBC students considered recent legislation during their research, “there is a need for additional efforts,” said master’s student Mari Wepprecht. “More can be done.”

The students also found the risk of teen crashes to be much higher than any other age group, with the accidents often being caused by alcohol or speeding, and resulting deaths and injuries by failure to wear seatbelts.

Maryland already has a DWI checkpoint program, but research showed that if the state increases the budget by 50 percent, doubles the number of checkpoints and has 15 to 20 police officers working each one, the number of deaths from teen accidents would decrease. They estimate that 26 lives would be saved per year.

Their second suggestion was to establish a competitive program where jurisdictions that increase the enforcement of seatbelt and speeding laws are awarded grants. Student Juliana Thirolf said there would be no cost to the government since the added revenues from the citations would pay for the grants.

The UMBC report was the result of a program in the university’s department of public policy in which second-year master’s students are assigned a topic for study, according to Dave E. Marcotte, a professor in the department.

“We usually call up folks in city and state government and entertain a few ideas,” he said.”[Then we] meet with them over the summer and choose the one we think is most appropriate.”

Last semester their client was Malone, D-Baltimore and Howard, who is a member of the Task Force for Driver’s Education Programs in Maryland.

Malone admits there may be some issues with introducing new legislation. “The other one little problem is with the bills just going into effect, it takes a little while to see if they’re actually work,” he said.