A 15-year-old driver rolled a white minivan as she neared the Iowa River on Interstate-380 in Johnson County. In the van were two 16-year-old passengers. One was reported to have died and the other taken to University Hospitals in Iowa City.

All were apparently high school students who’d just finished a volleyball game and were heading out to get a bite to eat. The 15-year-old driver was Rachel Stewart of North Liberty. Her two passengers were Alyssa Benedict and Rachel Petersen. Young Ms. Benedict is listed as the fatality.

“Clear Creek Amana Principal Tom McDonald said Benedict and two friends were apparently going to get something to eat after attending a volleyball game at the school in Tiffin.”

  • What was the reason the van lost control and rolled over?
  • What was the reason the van ended up off the road and onto the median?
  • Were there distractions inside the van that caused this inexperienced driver to lose control?
  • Does the law even allow a special license permittee to be taxiing passengers on a food run?
  • Was this errand going to allow them to get home before the permit curfew?

In Iowa a 15-year-old can drive with a learner’s permit and a school permit. Those permits allow them to drive to school-related functions, like volleyball. The permissible hours are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. This accident is reported to have happened at 8:45 p.m. Passengers are allowed to ride along but I’m not sure the law allows the driver to veer from the most direct route between home and school or the extracurricular activity. Reports indicate that Benedict and Petersen were not wearing seat belts. Another report has the van entering the median area before rolling over. But let’s get back to the time sequence to decide if this trip was a good idea for teens, so that teens can learn to reason to stay out of trouble.

Reports show they were at a school event at Clear Creek Amana in Tiffin. The driver lived in North Liberty, the two passengers in Tiffin, Iowa. At the time of the collision they were driving south on I-380, a four lane divided highway. The collision occurred at the 8 mile marker. It should be clear that if you’re at a school in Tiffin and the two passengers live in Tiffin then there’s no reason to be on I-380 taxiing passengers. Tiffin is west of I-380 and North Liberty is northwest of Tiffin. Using MapQuest shows there are 8.31 miles between the two towns that takes a mere 13 minutes to drive and doesn’t include any travel being necessary on I-380. In other words I-380 isn’t a direct route. So why were they even on I-380?

The MapQuest directions include E 3rd Street toward Main Street, then right onto Main Street, turn right onto E. Marengo Road/U.S. 6 East, then left onto Coral Ridge Ave., turn right on E. Penn Street, then right on N. Dubuque Street to North Liberty.

Google Maps shows the direct route.

The question remains to be answered whether the law allowed this special minor driver to even be on I-380 and then whether it was possible to get something to eat and get everyone home by the permitted curfew of 10 p.m. Of course there is also the question of whether these teens could legally make this food run.

“The reason Stewart lost control of the van has not been made public by the Iowa State Patrol. McDonald said he received an unconfirmed report that a rear tire had blown.”

State law allows young drivers with learner’s permits and a school permit to drive to and from school for school-related activities. The Code section is 321.194 Special minors’ licenses. Here is what is written. The drive must take the most direct or accessible route and can only drive between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. over the most direct and accessible route between the licensee’s residence and schools of enrollment or the closets school bus stop or public transportation service and between schools or enrollment, for the purpose of attending classes or extracurricular activities within the school district. That’s a mouthful and these code sections aren’t easily understood. Generally they are allowed to have passengers but they can’t have more passengers than there are seat belts, a requirement that implies seat belts must be worn.

So let’s recap the mistakes that were made:

1. Not wearing seat belts.

2. Driving on an Interstate.

3. Driving a route that is not a direct or permissible route.

4. Taxiing passengers.

5. Trying to squeeze in too many stops in two short a period of time.

6. Disobeying the law that requires teens not to drive except to and from school events. Last I checked McDonald’s isn’t a school event and they don’t have classes.

7. Were there distractions in the van that caused the driver to lose control?

Does the law allow the driver to taxi passengers for the convenience of parents? I’m not sure I would agree that it does. Was all of this avoidable? Absolutely.  One of the lessons to learn is for parents to stop distracting teens with asking the wrong question, why are there so many lawsuits? Start asking the right question, the one that will reduce the number of accidents and in turn the number of lawsuits.

Why are there so many accidents and injuries?

See Radio Iowa, Teenage girl killed, two others injured in eastern Iowa wreck

UPDATE: Teen Killed, Two Injured in I-380 Accident

NEWS UPDATE - 1 killed in rollover accident

I send my condolences to the families and rest my case.

Steve Lombardi
Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death
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