Missouri's Deadly Epidemic: Unlicensed Drivers
"I told them, nothing good happens at three o'clock in the morning," said Mark Stretz, who still struggles with his grief.
Last month, his two teenage sons took a ride with a friend that ended in a crash, killing 13-year-old Harley. The driver was only 14, and had no license.
"I did it as a kid, my brother did it as a kid, and lots of other kids do it," admitted Mark Stretz. "It's a part of it, but this time it went too far."
And, adults can be an even bigger problem. Missouri State Highway Patrol Lt. Anthony Helfrecht has pulled over drivers with suspended or revoked licenses every week during his six years on the force.
"On Thanksgiving last year, there was a fatal [crash] involving an unlicensed driver," Helfrecht recalled. "He made some wrong decisions along the way and ended up killing a couple of folks. We never like to go to an accident scene such like that, which could have been prevented, but it did happen."
Last year, the Missouri Highway Patrol stopped more than 20,000 unlicensed drivers on the road. Some were too young, others had a suspended or revoked license.
But, Chris Ricks of the Highway Patrol said troopers can't catch unlicensed drivers until they break other laws, such as speeding or driving recklessly.
"Unlicensed drivers are not only involved in minor traffic accidents, but they're involved in serious traffic crashes," he explained.
The penalty for unlicensed driving can be a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail, although jail is the rare exception.
"The most effective deterrent to unlicensed driving comes from insurance companies that raise premiums on drivers who get caught," Ricks added.
Meanwhile, Mark Stretz hopes everyone drives more safely because of his son Harley's death.
"He was a beautiful kid," Mark said with a sob. "If there's any way that your kids don't have access to the keys or anything else, lock it. That's what you need to do."
Missouri isn't the only state that has problems with unlicensed drivers. Arizona passed a law last year, requiring police to impound cars of unlicensed drivers.
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