Teen driving commission seeks input from public

Colts Neck High School to host Nov. 19 meeting; comments are welcome

BY AMY ROSEN Staff Writer

The day a teenager gets his or her driver’s license is a day most teens look forward to and many parents dread. The teenagers see the driver’s license as a ticket to independence and parents worry about their child’s safety.

According to the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens. Driver inexperience, speed, distraction (such as cell phone use, including texting, and passengers) and lack of seat belt use are all leading factors in teen driver crashes, injuries and fatalities.

In the wake of the high incidence of fatal automobile accidents involving teenagers in New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine signed legislation in March that created the New Jersey Teen Driver Study Commission.

The panel’s mission is to conduct a comprehensive review of teen driving in New Jersey and to make recommendations that will, hopefully, reduce crashes and save lives.

Members of the public are now being invited to share their ideas with the commission at a public hearing that will be held on Nov. 19 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Colts Neck High School, 59 Five Points Road, off Route 537, Colts Neck.

Members of the public who wish to provide testimony must sign in that evening at the high school. A threeminute time slot will be assigned to each speaker on a first come, first served basis. Written testimony is encouraged.

Anyone who cannot attend the public meeting may send his thoughts and ideas regarding teen driver safety to Teen Driver Study Commission, New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, P.O. Box 048, Trenton, NJ 08625- 0048. More information is available at www.state.nj.us-/lps/hts/teen-driverstudy. html.

The commission is comprised of a cross-section of the community and includes state legislators, school administrators, government (highway traffic safety and Motor Vehicle Commission) and law enforcement officials in addition to Automobile Association of America representatives, driving school and insurance industry professionals. There is also a teenage driver and a PTA representative on the committee.

The committee members meet regularly and have convened several expert panels including police officers, driver education instructors, trauma surgeons and court officials to gather data and gain critical insight into this issue. They will review all the material gathered and must present the governor with a list of their recommendations by March.

Julie Farel of Marlboro is the only parent representative on the commission. She volunteered to sit on the panel when it was being formed. Having a daughter who went through the Marlboro school system, Farel has always been active in the PTA. She was president of the Monmouth County PTA for four years and formed the Marlboro High School PTA. She said her goal is to get parents to be more involved in what the commission hopes to accomplish.

“Many parents are looking to the schools to take total responsibility for driver’s education,” Farel said, “but the parents must take responsibility, too. I want to get the word out that this is serious. We want opinions and suggestions that can help us.”

Farel believes parents need to set a good example for their children to follow by driving safely.

“Kids will mimic their parents,” she said “so we must be sure to wear seat belts all the time and stress the importance of using them because many of the seriously injured children in the fatal accidents were, reportedly, not wearing seat belts.”

She also recommends that parents give their teenagers who have a driving permit as much experience on the road as possible to counteract driver inexperience, which is a major factor in many accidents involving teens.

“Parents must be actively involved. Take them out, give them the experience and let them drive in all kinds of weather with you,” she said.

Farel is aware the commission faces a strong challenge to come up with recommendations that will work for everyone in the urban, suburban and rural areas of New Jersey, but she is determined to continue pushing forward.

“Kids think they are invincible,” she said. “Anything that we can do to get them to be more aware that it’s a 2,000-pound vehicle, not a gocart, that must be driven with caution, is worth it if it saves lives.”

The commission members are looking closely at the Graduated Driver License (GDL) law, which issues drivers under the age of 18 provisional licenses with restrictions. According to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission Web site, one of the restrictions states that “passengers must be from the driver’s household, plus one additional person.” Many recent fatal accidents involved drivers who held a provisional license having more than one friend in their car.