BUCKSPORT, Maine — On the night of Oct. 3, 15-year-old Taylor Darveau was killed in Bucksport when she was a passenger in a car that hit a tree. The teenage driver was injured but survived.
Two weeks later, in Hiram, 16-year-old Alexia Valente was driving when she hit a tree and died at the scene. Her two teenage passengers were injured, but survived.
In all three cases, the driver was 16 years old and was not supposed to have those passengers in the car. Each of the three drivers held an intermediate license, meaning that, according to state law, they could only carry passengers who were immediate family members, unless there was also someone in the car over the age of 20 who had a license for at least two years.
Carleton Sanborn, vice president of the Maine Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, said that it’s very difficult for police to enforce the intermediate license law.
He put the onus on the parents of young drivers.
“Parents are as bad as anyone when it comes to driver education,” said Sanborn.
Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said this week that cautious driving would do more to reduce the rate of crashes than a change in the law.
“Enacting more statutes may not solve any problems. We had terrible crashes and people died and this was part of the response,” Dunlap said, referring to the intermediate licensing law. “We are still having crashes.”
“The impetus has to be on the driver to respect their future,” he said.
Fatal car crashes are down in Maine, according to the Maine Department of Transportation. However, a 2012 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showed that teenage drivers are 44 percent more likely to be in a fatal accident when they are carrying a teenage passenger.
That means that if there are two test groups of teenage drivers — one with the subjects driving alone and the other with a teenage passenger — and all other conditions are equal, there will be 44 percent more fatal accidents in the group with a passenger, explained AAA’s senior research associate Brian Tefft, who wrote the study. The likelihood of a fatal crash goes up with each additional teenager in the car.
But Robert Foss, director of the Highway Safety Research Center at the University of North Carolina, cautioned against blaming the crashes on the fact that there were teenage passengers in the car.
“In truth, the biggest problem is that she was just young and inexperienced,” Foss said, referring to Samantha Goode, the driver in the fatal Bucksport crash.
“People like to think that there’s a cause for a crash,” he added. “But typically it’s a lot of factors occurring together at the wrong time.”
The circumstances of the crash in which Darveau died are still under investigation, according to Bucksport Police Chief Sean Geagan.
He said the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department is working on a forensic mapping report and the Ellsworth Police Department is putting together a reconstruction report. Information from those reports, along with interviews conducted by the Bucksport police, will be reviewed by the District Attorney’s office before any actions are taken.
“Those reports can take months,” Geagan said. “The last one took like eight months.”
The driver in the Levant crash had his license suspended, according to state police. Drivers who violate the intermediate license provisions lose their licenses for 60 days.
Foss said that a good way for teens to become better drivers is to practice under safe conditions.
“These limits on driver’s licenses are largely enforced by parents,” he said.