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Pam Fischer of New Jersey's Teen Safe Driving Coalition explains how the organization is saving lives. Photo credit: http://www.dchtsdf.org/safe_driving_coalition.aspx

Guest blog from Pam Fischer

I was recently introduced as “a passionate coach and teen driving advocate.... committed to schooling anyone who cares through the process of training their new driver.”   Use of the word schooling prompted a number of chuckles from those in the audience who know me.  But I’ll be the first to admit that I never miss an opportunity to educate my peers -- and anyone else who will listen, for that matter -- about this issue.  That’s why I view my role as leader of the New Jersey Teen Safe Driving Coalition not as a job, but a calling. 

The Coalition, an initiative of The Allstate Foundation and the National Safety Council, works to engage, educate and mobilize communities to develop and improve safe teen driving programs, practices and activities based on the proven principles of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL).  With more than 120 individual and organizational members, New Jersey’s Coalition is working diligently to make sure that parents and teens, as well as law enforcement, elected officials, the media, and the community-at-large, understand how and why GDL works to reduce teen crash risk.  With zero -- no crashes, injuries or fatalities -- as our goal, we’re committed to ensuring that every teen survives his or her most dangerous driving years. 

Coalition members facilitate the parent-teen orientation program, “Share the Keys,” at local high schools and other community-based settings.  Based on parental influence research conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the CDC, NIH/UMTRI,  the program focuses on four key behavioral objectives for parents:  understanding New Jersey’s GDL and effectively enforcing it at home, serving as good role models, increasing supervised practice with their novice driver, and controlling the keys. 

Share the Keys is having an impact.  A six month follow-up study of parents who participated in the program, found that 84 percent say they now understand the GDL and enforce the nighttime driving and passenger restrictions.  Sixty-three percent also report controlling the keys, while 47 percent spend seven hours or more a month practice driving with their teen.

Coalition members also support the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey’s U Got Brains Champion Schools Program by serving as mentors, subject matter experts and judges.  The peer-to-peer teen safe driving initiative provides high school students across the state the opportunity to develop and implement education campaign addressing issues novice drivers and their passengers face on the road.  Students compete for the grand prize, a driving simulator for their school.  These state-of-the-art simulators provide current and future drivers-in-training the opportunity to practice real life driving skills in a safe environment.  Since the program’s inception in 2010, more than 150,000 students at over 100 public and private high schools have benefitted from this innovative program. 

Following a fatal car crash involving eight high school football players at a New Jersey high school in 2011, the Coalition partnered with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association to develop “A Game Plan for Talking to Your Student Athletes About New Jersey’s Graduate Driver License Program.”  This four-page “GDL Game Plan” is helping high school coaches discuss safe driving and GDL with their athletes.  It includes information and statistics about how and why the GDL program works, a sample student athlete code of conduct and a checklist for coaches.  The publication has been adopted for use by other states and featured in the National Federation of State High School Associations online publication. 

Recognizing the critical role law enforcement and driver education professionals play in teen safe driving, the Coalition has also developed initiatives specifically for these critical constituency groups.  From “GDL for Law Enforcement” training classes and presentations at county and state traffic officer and chiefs of police association meetings, to planning and facilitating a dedicated driver education workshop track at an annual statewide conference and building and maintaining a website exclusively for driver education teachers, the Coalition is devoting significant resources to this effort.

New Jersey isn’t the only state with a teen safe driving Coalition, there are nine others:  California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. Each Coalition, like New Jersey’s, is composed of volunteers from state and local law enforcement, highway safety and transportation, public health and injury prevention, teens, parents, business leaders, and family members and friends of teen crash victims.  And while each is doing important work, I’m particularly proud of the progress we’re making here in New Jersey.  Last year, both teen driver and teen passenger fatalities as well as overall teen crashes fell to historic lows in our state.  Working collaboratively, our Coalition is reaching thousands and helping to save lives. 

In addition to leading the NJ Teen Safe Driving Coalition, Pam Fischer is the mother of a teen driver, a nationally recognized transportation safety consultant and a teen driving blogger.  She has also authored two teen driving publications for the Governors Highway Safety Association and is the former director of the NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety and chair of the New Jersey Teen Driver Study Commission.