When, how teens can legally drive or should take a bus

  • John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comGeneva High School students exit the fan bus at DeKalb High School before the Class 4A DeKalb sectional semifinal game Wednesday.

    John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comGeneva High School students exit the fan bus at DeKalb High School before the Class 4A DeKalb sectional semifinal game Wednesday.

  • Two students from Aurora Central Catholic High School were killed in a crash on Route 38 on their way to a basketball game in Rochelle, prompting more talk of young driver safety.

    Two students from Aurora Central Catholic High School were killed in a crash on Route 38 on their way to a basketball game in Rochelle, prompting more talk of young driver safety. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/11/2015 8:11 PM

The tragic accident that killed two Aurora Central Catholic High School teenagers brings to mind explicit laws made just for young and inexperienced drivers.

The teens, an injured passenger and three other students -- and ages 16 and 17 -- were driving to see their school's basketball team in a playoff game Tuesday in Rochelle. State police say the 17-year-old driver of the SUV ran a red light and into the path of a semitrailer on Route 38 in a dense fog just before 6 p.m.

 

Illinois' graduated driver's license law has precise restrictions on drivers who have had their license for less than a year.

A driver 17 or younger who has had a license less than one year may have only one passenger less than age 20, unless the other passengers are siblings or the driver's child.

That same driver who has been licensed for more than a year may ferry unrelated teenagers. He can have one passenger in the front, and as many in the back as there are seat belts available.

The SUV involved in Tuesday's crash was an Acura with three rows of seating. One of the teens who died was not wearing a seat belt, according to police. The rest were.

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Enforcement

The graduated driver law took effect in 2008, at the urging of Secretary of State Jesse White.

"Secretary White was sick and tired of reading about teenagers being killed in traffic crashes," said Henry Haupt, a White spokesman.

White was particularly disturbed to learn of 15 teenagers killed in a 15-month period in rural Tazewell County. He convened a task force of police, education, court and traffic safety experts to come up with more restrictions, Haupt said.

Results were immediately noticeable.

In 2007, the Illinois Department of Transportation reported that 155 people age 15 to 19 -- either drivers or occupants -- died in traffic accidents. In 2008, the number fell to 93. Last year, the count was 66, Haupt said.

Some police departments, such as Buffalo Grove, enforce the law secondarily to other traffic offenses, said Sgt. Mike Rodriguez, head of the traffic unit and a graduate of Northwestern University's Staff and Command School.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

For example, he said, if a person is pulled over on suspicion of speeding, the officer may note there are too many underage passengers in the vehicle. The officer can then issue tickets to the driver and to the passengers.

When that happens, the police department calls their parents to pick them up.

"We will not allow the violation to continue," Rodriguez said.

When drivers younger than 18 are convicted of a moving violation, including a graduated-driver-license offense, their parents are notified, he said.

The law also specifies when young drivers may drive at night. Generally, they have to be off the road before 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. There are exceptions, Rodriguez said, such as if the driver is returning from a school event or is performing a parent-sanctioned errand.

Buses to games?

Many suburban high schools offer "fan buses" to some away games, particularly if they are relatively far away from their school. Aurora Central Catholic has offered buses in the past; it is not known if one was available Tuesday.

Geneva High School authorities on Wednesday sent an email to parents reiterating their desire to have students take buses to a boys basketball game that night in DeKalb. The school offers the busing for free. The email also referenced Tuesday's crash.

Geneva has offered to bus fans to postseason games "as long as I can remember," Principal Tom Rogers said. "But honestly, it is with fairly limited success."

The school does this for games that are far away, particularly if it is a night game, Rogers said. One of the last times it did so was for a game at Conant High School in Schaumburg.

"We just felt it would be prudent to offer a safer option," Rogers said of the game in DeKalb, which is about a 40-minute, 26-mile drive west on Route 38 from Geneva.

He said parents are often more willing to let students drive to such games if they are held in daylight hours, or will drive the kids themselves if the game is on a weekend.

For prom, the high school goes a step farther. Everybody who attends prom, often held at venues in Chicago, must ride school-hired motor coaches.

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