FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, May 17, 2010
DMV COMMISSIONER RETURNS TO HIGH SCHOOL TO WARN TEENS OF DRIVING'S DEADLY DANGERS
Commissioner shares personal experience of tragic teen death
In the summer before his senior year, a classmate of New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner David J. Swarts was killed in a car crash in the West Seneca School District. That tragedy had a lasting impact on the Commissioner and during his tenure at DMV, improving younger driver safety has been a key priority of the Department.
On Monday, May 17, Commissioner Swarts returned to his alma mater at West Seneca, near Buffalo, New York to speak with students and parents of teen drivers about the issues inexperienced younger drivers face. The Commissioner also addressed the steps that the Governor and the DMV have taken to improve driver safety and encouraged parents to take an active role in their children's driver training.
Referred to by many as the "100 deadliest days," for younger drivers, the time period between Memorial Day and Labor Day includes prom and graduation season, the July 4th holiday and the summer months when teen drivers are typically enjoying their freedoms and as a result, sometimes engage in risky and destructive driving behaviors. In 2008, between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, there were more than 5,000 people injured or killed in car crashes in New York State in which a driver was 16-20 years old. Drivers ages 16-20 were more than three times as likely as all drivers to have driver inexperience reported as a contributing factor in crashes.
"Just before my senior year started, I lost a good friend and classmate in a car crash," said DMV Commissioner Swarts. "I want younger drivers to understand how dangerous certain driving behaviors can be and know that many of these crashes can be prevented. I am speaking to these students today, not just from the perspective of DMV Commissioner, but as someone who has experienced the tragedy of losing a teenage friend in an automobile crash."
The group attending the Commissioner's presentation was made up of 75 juniors and seniors from the school's SADD chapter, other leadership groups and the school's Politics in Government class. Teachers and school staff who are parents of teen drivers were also present, including Kelly Cline whose son, A.J. Larson, was killed in December 2007 at the age of 20.
"My son A.J. is no longer here because of texting while driving," said Kelly Cline. "Our young drivers need to understand that they are not invincible. Driving is a privilege, and with privileges come responsibilities. All drivers need to pay attention while driving, and keep distractions to a minimum. They need to choose to drive safely."
In addition to the dangers associated with texting while driving, the Commissioner also spoke about speeding and focused on what the DMV is doing to educate and prepare younger drivers. Also, two public service announcements, funded by the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee, were shown. "Be Smart. Drive Smart." focuses on younger drivers during graduation season and the dangers of distracted driving, and "Drinking and Driving Shatters Lives" focuses on the devastation experienced by a Long Island family when a drunk driver hit their limo head-on and killed their seven-year-old daughter and the driver.
"The hours and days immediately following proms and other end of the year celebrations are the most difficult," said West Seneca Principal Jon MacSwan. "We know when students are with us that they are in a safe place. Our hope is that when they leave us they take with them the knowledge, education, and awareness of the dangers of distracted and impaired driving provided them."
On Tuesday, May 18, the Commissioner will be addressing students and parents at the South Glens Falls High School in upstate New York and on Thursday, May 20, the Commissioner will be visiting students and parents at the Bellmore-Merrick High School on Long Island. Following the Commissioner's presentation, the students will perform a play entitled, "And These Our Friends", the story of five high-school seniors who must make the same choices millions of young people must make each time they get into a car. In the midst of their day-to-day lives, the death of a student in a DWI-related crash affects them each in a different way. The play was written and directed by Jeffrey E. Sanzel and was funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with a grant from the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee, of which the Commissioner is the Chair.
Recognizing the need to address the unique issues that younger drivers face, the Commissioner created The Office for the Younger Driver in 2008. Efforts undertaken by that office include recommendations to the legislature on the quality and availability of driver education. The Department of Motor Vehicles continues to move this initiative forward in cooperation with the Department of Education and the Department of Health. In conjunction with Health Research Incorporated (HRI), the DMV is also in the process of bringing together a partnership of stakeholders to design, implement and evaluate a modern driver education curriculum. The collaboration has been named the Driver Education Research Innovation Center (DERIC). Other efforts of the DMV include: the introduction and passage of an enhanced Graduated Driver Licensing Law, the launch of the Teen Electronic Event Notification Service (TEENS), the creation of the Younger Driver Web site and the creation of a School Resource Officer (SRO) tool kit. School Resource Officers are state, county or local police officers assigned to schools to assist in communicating important law enforcement and anti-destructive behavior information to students. The tool kit includes links to various teen driver safety resources that SROs can use.
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