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Road Warrior: How to make your teen a near-perfect driver



Paris Hilton getting a DUI

Road Warrior: How to make your teen a near-perfect driver

AUGUST 31, 2014    LAST UPDATED: SUNDAY, AUGUST 31, 2014, 1:21 AM

If you’re a parent who pounds your foot on an imaginary brake while teaching your teen to drive, you might be happy to know that your frantic mentoring will likely pay huge personal dividends — assuming you’re a good role model behind the wheel.

With schools getting ready to open any day, that was the message delivered last week when a New Jersey highway safety official presented preliminary findings in a slide show that detailed near-perfect road records for teens whose parents learn about Graduated Driver License laws, then follow up by closely monitoring their kids’ driving behavior.

When parents got involved in their training, 98 percent of these young people didn’t get traffic tickets and 92 percent didn’t crash their cars in their first year behind the wheel, said Violet Marrero of the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety. Past national studies have suggested that parental involvement can cut teen crash risk in half — not by 92 percent, a figure Marrero called “phenomenal.”

“We lost about 800 teens in car crashes in New Jersey over the last 10 years,” she told a crowd at Westfield High School on Tuesday. “Imagine the impact on the community if all parents got involved and we could spare the grief of at least half that number of families.”

The audience, composed of more than 100 high school driver-education instructors, gave the division’s special project manager a warm hand. For more than a decade, many of New Jersey’s 3,000 instructors have been complaining about steadily eroding resources for equipment like the driving simulators that are needed to train young people for an activity that takes the lives of more 16-to-20-year-olds than any disease.

The teachers are familiar with the grisly statistics: Although young drivers represent only 6 percent of the state’s population, they accounted for 14 percent of all road deaths from 2003 to 2012, mainly due to inexperience.

Teachers also know of an effective treatment: Graduated Driver License mandates that protect novices for at least one year while they learn the road’s hard lessons. Under New Jersey’s 13-year-old program, that means an 11 p.m. driving curfew, a limit of one teen passenger if a licensed adult is not in the car, a ban on plea-bargaining when sentenced for driving offenses, and a ban on all wireless devices in the car. New Jersey is also the only state to require display of a tiny red license-plate decal to identify permit holders and first-year probationary licensees.

“We’re finally seeing some meaningful change,” said Maureen Nussman, a former Kinnelon High School teacher who organized the event with the New Jersey Teen Safe Driving Coalition, New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance and the New Jersey Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (

Statistically, New Jersey’s Graduated Driver License requirements appear to be working, especially after the decal, curfew and passenger requirements were tightened in a law that took effect in 2010. Fatalities involving drivers 20 years old or younger have fallen every year but two in the last 10 years — from 103 in 2004, to 46 in 2013, according to a Highway Traffic Safety Division analysis. This 55 percent drop is three times greater than the decline for all other age groups combined.

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