We talk a lot about “zero” in traffic safety—zero crashes, zero injuries and zero deaths. Are we unrealistic?
Before you weigh-in, ask yourself this question—how many loved ones am I willing to lose as a result of traffic crashes? I can’t imagine your answer could be anything but zero.
So knowing that teen drivers have the highest crash risk of any age group on the road and that when they crash, they not only injure and kill themselves and their friends, but many other roadway users (the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates the number of “others” to be as high as 63%), wouldn’t you want to do something to address this problem?
Gov. Chris Christie had the opportunity to do something last month when the Legislature sent him a bill (A3309/S3058) calling for more stringent licensing requirements for novice drivers. (If you’re not familiar with the legislation, I encourage you to check out two of my blog posts, Empowering parents to be the chief enforcer and Clearing up the confusion about the latest teen driving bill.) He opted, however, to do nothing and pocket vetoed the bill citing concerns about “unintended consequences.” His decision to look the other way, despite strong evidence showing that plenty of practice coupled with parental involvement are critical for helping teens survive the most dangerous time of their life, is not only disappointing but downright unacceptable.
One life lost because a parent didn’t know that a teen driver’s crash risk increases 50% when he has a friend in the car, is unacceptable. One life lost because a teen driver didn’t get enough practice in the permit phase before going solo, is unacceptable. And one life lost because of concerns about the inconvenience of requiring families to spend 90 minutes or just 6% of a single day learning how they can inoculate their teens against car crashes, is unacceptable. But perhaps what’s most unacceptable of all is ignoring the data and acting as if the status quo is okay.
Last year, 29 teen drivers between 16 and 20 years of age and 17 teen passengers (15- to 20-year-olds driven by teens) died on New Jersey roadways (these are preliminary figures provided by the New Jersey State Police Fatal Accident Reporting Unit). That’s a 39% jump over the previous year, when 19 teen drivers and 14 teen passengers were killed in teen-driving related crashes. Ensuring that teens and their parents understand the risks, learn how and why the Graduated Driver License program works to address these risks, and invest time in supervised practice driving are essential for moving these numbers back in the right direction—toward zero.
The bill that the governor vetoed isn’t just important for protecting teens, but all roadway users. The primary sponsor, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), a father of teens, has indicated that he will reintroduce the legislation, but before doing so would like to meet with the governor to discuss his concerns. (A bill, A2104, addressing only the supervised practice driving requirement was introduced by Assemblymen John Amodeo (R-Atlantic), Brian Rumpf (R-Ocean) and Scott Rumana (R-Passaic) at the start of the new legislative session last month.)
I hope the governor takes this meeting and listens. Requiring teens to attend an orientation with a parent or guardian as a prerequisite for obtaining a permit, lengthening the permit from 6 to 12 months and mandating that teens log a minimum number of supervised practice hours so they gain skill and reduce their risk isn’t burdensome, it’s good public policy. Policy that can and will save lives.