CLEVELAND, Ohio- It remains the number one killer of teens in America. And, after decades in decline, the number of teens dying in motor vehicle crashes has actually started to rise again in the past couple of years.
Those numbers bear out the pain that so many families in northeast Ohio have felt in recent months.
"It's like you don't know how to live anymore," says Stella Mayher, speaking of the
death of her only child, Kailee, in a car accident earlier this year in Strongsville, with another teen behind the wheel.
"How do you live without your child?" she asks, her voice choking, "the light of your life?"
Stella broke her silence to speak with us because she hopes to help others avoid the
pain she and her husband, Rick, feel daily.
"It's all I have left to do as a parent," she says, "is to help other parents. I don't have school supplies to go buy, or the prom dress. How do you live like that?"
Stella is trying to make a difference by putting her support behind a bill in the Ohio House that she hopes one day may be known as "Kailee's Law."
The law is sponsored by Representative Gary Scherer of Circleville, a Republican, and Representative Mike Sheehy of Toledo, a Democrat.
"It has the potential to save lives," says Rep. Sheehy.
All four of his children were involved in car crashes as teens, and Rep. Scherer nearly lost a daughter in a teen-aged car crash.
"It's very personal for both Mike and me," he says.
Their proposal would make two major changes to teen driving laws in Ohio: First, it would double, from six months to a year, how long a new teen driver must have a temporary permit before getting their actual license; second, it would dramatically restrict nighttime driving for those under 18.
Right now, they can't drive after midnight during the first year that they have their license.
The proposal would move that back to 9 p.m.
Research shows that 79 percent of accidents involving 16-year-old drivers in Ohio
occur between 9 p.m. and midnight.
Bob Adamich is a well-regarded driving instructor at 911 Driving School in Rocky River.
He says he understands the proposals, but that parents would have to accept more of
a burden for their teen drivers if it becomes law.
"It's going to make it a little longer for parents until their child can actually have control of the car," he says.
There are two prime reasons that teen traffic fatalities have fallen so sharply -- from nearly 10,000 nationally in 1978 to a low of 2,543 in 2013 -- according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
One is the advances in the safety of cars, and the other is the development of "graduated" driving laws - where teens must first get a permit and drive with their parents before getting a license.
"Kind of across the board, If you strengthen the provisions, you reduce fatalities," says Becca Weast, a research scientist with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Teen driving laws have remained relatively unchanged for several years in most of
But, with the number of teen deaths now starting to rise again (over 2,700 died in
2015, the last year for which final figures are available, according to the Insurance Institute), states such as Ohio are considering further restrictions on teen drivers.
The Insurance Institute estimates that, if Ohio adopted the stricter proposals it is
considering, teen deaths in the state from accidents would fall by thirteen percent.
"It would have a marked effect on teenage fatalities," Weast says.
The American Automobile Association says that there is no substitute for time behind
"Even the best drivers ed course doesn't teach experience," says Lori Cook, a safety
advisor with AAA East Central.
Meantime, as she looked over some photos of her daughter, Kailee, Stella Mayher said
she is motivated to speak out both to honor her daughter - and to help others.
"I don't want other families to have to go through what we go through."
A scholarship fund has been set up - the Kailee Mayher charity fund. Donations are accepted at any Fifth Third Bank branch.