Iowa dad joins call for tougher teen driving laws

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare: the aftermath of a deadly traffic accident that kills a teenager.

“Mackenzie was my only child,” said her father, Michael Lown. “She was my superstar.”

Mackenzie Lown, 14, was one of five passengers in a car driven by another teenager on October 17, 2011. Travelling an estimated 100 mph, it crossed the center line and hit a minivan near Tiffin, Iowa. Mackenzie was killed, and the others were injured.

“I support this legislation simply because I don’t want others to go through this,” he said.

Experts at the University of Iowa are calling for more restrictive Graduated Driver Licensing. It’s all about maximizing experience and minimizing risk.

It’s a tragic fact that car crashes cause nearly half of all teenage deaths in Iowa.

“The saddest thing to me is that almost all of these deaths were preventable,” said Dr. Charles Jennissen, director of pediatric emergency medicine at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. “If certain steps would have been taken, they didn’t need to happen at all.”

After earlier Iowa Senate approval, supporters are calling on the Iowa House to toughen driving laws for teens. They’re asking to extend driving permits from six months to a full year. That’s to allow monitored driving during hazardous weather conditions. They also want to limit passengers under 21 to one non-family member.

Traffic fatality rates for 16-year-old drivers is nearly six times higher than for drivers above age 30. The crash rate also increases with more passengers in the car.

“Enhancing the state’s GDL system does not require the use of any state funds,” said Lisa Roth, Blank Children’s Hospital. “And how often do we have the opportunity to save lives without using state funds.”

With memories of the October accident still fresh, it becomes a grieving father’s call to action.

“It just makes sense,” he concluded. “It would save lives. It would save money, and it would save some pain.”