The Peter K. O'Rourke Special Achievement Award
The Peter K. O'Rourke Special Achievement Awards recognize notable achievements in the field of highway safety during the prior calendar year by individuals, coalitions, organizations, nonprofit groups, businesses, government agencies, universities or programs. About Peter K. O'Rourke
2009 Winner: New Jersey Teen Driver Study Commission
A series of deadly teen driver crashes in New Jersey led traffic safety and law enforcement professionals across the state to push for the passage of a bill establishing a Teen Driver Study Commission. Governor Corzine signed the bill into law in March 2007. The Commission’s charge was to assess the state of teen (16- to 20-year olds) driving in New Jersey and make recommendations that would reduce the number of teen driver crashes and, ultimately, save lives.
The Commission poured over the latest national and international teen driving research; analyzed NJ licensing; looked at crash and motor vehicle violation data; reviewed teen licensing requirements in other states and countries; and heard from experts in a variety of fields including law enforcement, driver education/training, and child psychology. The Commission also invited public comment on the highway safety office’s website and through hearings across the state.
As a result of its research and outreach, the Commission determined that more could and should be done to improve the way the state educates and licenses teen drivers. The Commission also concluded that more could be done to monitor teens’ driving, enforce laws and sanction unsafe behavior.
The Commission’s final report contained 47 recommendations. A number of the recommendations were new and innovative, including: requiring GDL holders to display an identifier on their vehicles when behindthe- wheel to aid with enforcement; sanctioning not just the teen driver for committing a GDL violation, but the other teen passengers in the car as well; developing an “event-based,” rather than point-based, sanctioning system to deter GDL violations; banning plea agreements for GDL holders; and requiring a parent/teen orientation as a pre-requisite for obtaining a permit.
The Commission has had a substantial impact. Already, new laws require a teen driver decal, lower the curfew for provisional drivers under 21 to 11 p.m., and limit the number of teen passengers allowed to one unless a parent or guardian is present. The state has also changed the name of the provisional license to “probationary” to send a stronger message to teen that driving is a privilege, not a right.
The Commission remains active, working with the media to keep the issue of teen driving on the front page. An increase in the number of GDL violations being written and a variety of increased educational efforts across the state are paying off. The number of teen fatalities dropped from 80 in 2007 to 60 in 2008. The number was down again through the first five months of 2009. The Commission’s comprehensive approach to teen driving safety provides a model for other states to address the issue.
To view the Commission’s report, go to http://www.nj.gov/oag/hts/teen-driver-report.html.
Contact Pam Fischer for more information at 609-633-9272 or Pam.Fischer@lps.state.nj.us.