Bad timing for ‘good news’

IN THE NEWS

MARK ROSMAN

They say timing is everything, so I hope you can forgive my lack of enthusiasm for an event that was held at Freehold Township High School on May 19. Officials gathered at the school that day to mark the 10th anniversary of the state’s Graduated Driver License (GDL) program.

According to a press release, the threestep GDL program (driver’s permit, probationary license and basic license) is credited with helping reduce deaths involving teen drivers to historic lows.

“There is no doubt that the GDL program has helped reduce car crashes — the No. 1 killer of teens in New Jersey— during the past decade,” said Pam Fischer, leader of the New Jersey Teen Safe Driving Coalition, a project made possible by a grant from The Allstate Foundation in partnership with the National Safety Council.

“GDL helps novice drivers gain experience and build skill while minimizing risky driving behaviors — distraction prompted by passengers and the use of cell phones and other electronic devices, as well as driving late at night and driving or riding unbelted. Last year in New Jersey, 19 teen drivers and 14 teen passengers (driven by teens) died in motor vehicle crashes — that’s nearly a 50 percent reduction since the GDL took effect in 2001,” Fischer said.

I do not think Fischer’s words from last week’s program at Freehold Township High School would bring any comfort to the friends and family members of Michael Rosado-Tancredi and James Volpe.

Rosado-Tancredi, a senior at Jackson Liberty High School in Jackson Township, was a passenger in a vehicle that ran off a road in Jackson on April 19. He died on April 20 of the injuries he sustained in the accident.

The vehicle in which Rosado-Tancredi was a passenger was being operated by a 17-year-old. At this time no charges have been filed against the driver, whose name has not been released by law enforcement authorities, nor reported by any media, to the best of my knowledge.

Volpe, a senior at Jackson Memorial High School, also in Jackson Township, was a passenger in a vehicle that was involved in a two-vehicle accident on Route 37 in Lakehurst on May 13. He died at the scene of injuries he sustained in the crash.

The Asbury Park Press reported that the vehicle in which Volpe was a passenger was being driven by another teenager, Alex Daniele. Volpe and Daniele were teammates on the Jackson Memorial High School baseball team.

Law enforcement authorities say the accident that claimed Volpe’s life remains under investigation, so it is not fair to assume that Daniele, the driver of the vehicle in which Volpe was a passenger, was at fault, and I am not making that assumption. The accident that claimed Volpe’s life on May 13 claimed its second life on May 22 when Robert Vallee, 41, of Manchester, died of the injuries he sustained in the crash.

Vallee was driving the second vehicle that was involved in the Lakehurst collision. He died at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Neptune, after nine days in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

I knew the May 19 event at Freehold Township High School would be filled with “good news” about the strides that have been made by the state’s GDL program, but in the wake of the recent deaths of the two Jackson teenagers, I cannot find any reason to celebrate.

I am the parent of a 16-year-old who has his permit and is learning how to drive. I am in the car with him when he drives, there to offer tips and advice about who and what to watch out for on the road. I think he is taking it all to heart, but it does not lessen the sense of anxiety I will feel the first time he leaves home alone in a motor vehicle.

Last week’s program at Freehold Township High School recognized the 2011 GDL Champions — individuals who have advocated for what the event organizers said are the proven principles of GDL.

Among the honorees was Project Lundy, a group of high school teens who turned the loss of a friend who died in a teen driver crash into a peer-to-peer education and outreach program.

Project Lundy started at Freehold Township High School and is named for Andrew Lundy, one of three Freehold High School students who died in a motor vehicle accident on Kozloski Road, Freehold Township, in 2007.

Andrew was a passenger in a vehicle being driven by another FHS student. A fourth person, the driver of a second vehicle that was involved in the accident, also died in that crash.

Andrew was the son of one of my classmates at Manalapan High School.

Students who participate in Project Lundy and are making an effort to educate their classmates about the potential dangers on the road certainly deserve to be commended for their actions. They are doing important work.

However, with the deaths of Michael Rosado-Tancredi and James Volpe fresh in my mind, listening to congratulations for people and organizations because only 33 teenagers died in motor vehicle crashes in New Jersey in 2010 was not on my agenda last week.

Mark Rosman is a managing editor with Greater Media Newspapers. He may be reached at gmntnews@gmnews.com.