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The Unintended Consequences of Doing Nothing: More Teen Driving Deaths

Gov. Christie recently vetoed a teen driving bill citing concerns about “unintended consequences.” But is maintaining the status quo working? Last year, teen driving deaths in NJ spiked 39%.

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,  and .) 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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Bobby February 06, 2012 at 05:35 PM
More stupid laws are not the answer. Responsible parents are. "Kyleigh's Law" Is not working. Look around at the cars with red stickers. Most are driven by adults who do not bother taking them on and off. Most parents of girls do not want a "Hi! I'm a 17 year old girl" sign on their car and don't use them. An 11PM curfew for teen drivers is also stupid. In the real world, kids do not go home and go to sleep at 11. One cannot even go to a late movie. So what happens? The 11PM curfew is ignored. Many parents enforced the previous midnight curfew, but 11? Not so many. The previous restriction on passengers was changed so that I as a parent cannot allow my teen driver to take my other two children home from school. Stupid law that people are not going to follow. And what happens is that the previous law forbidding more that one friend in the car is ignored as well. I can only imagine how devastating Kyleigh's death was to her family. However she and the other 3 people in the car were violating multiple provisions of the previous probationary license law. 6 parents (I believe the boys were brothers) and 4 young people knew what the laws were and ignored them. Increasing the age for full licensing just pushes the issue down the road so that a child is on their own or in college when they are "free". Parents then do not have an ability to monitor their child's driving behavior while they are learning. That does not help our children.
bbbnto February 06, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Legistlating parental control is not the way. Having them keep a log is even more rediculous. Who is going be the one oversighting their logs? And here is something very basic that I didn't see addressed: what happens when, even though they keep a log of their childs driving activities, something tragic happens? Who's liable? Mom and Dad? Where is the accountibility? It simply doesn't make sense...our laws are strong enough. Just like "Bobby", I agree that the red sticker just puts a bulls-eye on your car for perverts.
Sunny Forrest February 06, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Thank god there are men like you to express such well thought out comments that we value so greatly.
Kimberly Neville April 13, 2012 at 10:54 AM
I think the control should be and very strong control...not only by parents but also by the government. It is too dangerous for teen to drive so early. edit a picture http://pictureeditorfree.org/, Fred

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