IT WAS NOT prom time, senior week, graduation night or any of the occasions most often associated with teenagers' deaths in car crashes. In one exceptionally violent weekend in Montgomery County a week ago, five young people were killed and others severely injured in three car accidents involving excessive speed and curves in the roads. The drivers -- two of them killed, one critically injured -- were ages 16, 17 and 19. Then early yesterday, another driver in Montgomery -- at 21, barely beyond his teen years -- was killed in a crash police think might be connected to drag racing. In each of the four crashes, a passenger was killed. As Montgomery Police Chief J. Thomas Manger observed, and as school authorities and parents have come to know all too well, the terrible effects of these tragedies extend far beyond the victims' families.
The link between teen drivers and fatal crashes is nothing new; countless studies point up the obvious, that novice drivers are a high-risk category. Lectures and laws are easily ignored; caution is in limited supply and alcohol is not. Nevertheless, more can and must be done to reduce reckless driving among teens; the chief notes that actions could include deploying extra officers to monitor areas known to be hangouts for young drag racers and using a helicopter to assist surveillance.
Maryland also ought to enact tougher restrictions on teenage motorists, similar to what's on the books in the District and Virginia. These include laws limiting the number of passengers that new teenage drivers can transport. Maryland Dels. Adrienne A. Mandel and William A. Bronrott of Montgomery, who pressed for such legislation during the last General Assembly session, say such additional restrictions could reduce the distractions to novice drivers in cars packed with peers. Mr. Bronrott says emphasis should be on preventing "the kind of rolling party barges that all too often end up in tragedy on Maryland's roads."
During holiday weekends, police have reported that sobriety checkpoints have helped deter as well as nab drivers who have been drinking. For drivers younger than 21, the alcohol law is simple if enforcement is not: Any level of alcohol in the blood is illegal. Teen drinking may be difficult to monitor and stop, but if young people at least can sense the lethal consequences of mixing alcohol, high speed and distractions, some may be spared sudden death or lifelong grief.