Senate Passes Legislation Focused On Keeping Young Drivers Safe

Martin J. Golden

June 11, 2008


Members of the New York State Senate Majority Conference today introduced SAFE-TEEN New York, a comprehensive package of legislation designed to keep New York’s younger, less experienced drivers safe while on the road and prevent future tragic accidents.

The package of bills was announced today at a Capitol news conference, where the Senators were joined by John Arout of Staten Island, whose 17 year old daughter Michelle was killed in a high speed crash while the driver of her car was racing another teen driver.

According to the National Traffic Safety Administration, traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for persons ages 15 to 20. Teen drivers, mile to mile, are in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers. More than 7,000 teens die annually in traffic crashes.

"Our teens are at risk every time they get behind the wheel as evidenced by the troubling fact that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers," said Senator Andrew Lanza (R, Staten Island). "This package of bills will create awareness, and ensure that New York State implements the best possible safety and supervision measures so that our teen drivers keep themselves and others safe."

"Too often when we pick up a newspaper, we read about tragic accidents taking the lives of young, inexperienced drivers," said Senator Marty Golden, Chairman of the Senate Task Force on Critical Choices. "As a parent, I can’t imagine the pain and horror endured by the parents who lose their children in senseless accidents which could have been prevented. Our SAFE-TEEN New York package provides commonsense solutions that will help keep young drivers, and those around them, safe while on the roads."

"Keeping our roads -- and families -- safe is a top priority," said Senator Tom Libous, Chair of the Transportation Committee. "Taking action to help teens become better drivers and to give parents more tools to help their kids are common sense steps to making New York's roads safer for all drivers."

The SAFE-TEEN New York driver safety package includes legislation to:

> S.8020 - Increase the penalties for street racing from a misdemeanor offense to a felony for repeat offenders (Senator Lanza);

> S. 8124 - Limit the number of non-family member passengers under the age of 21 that can be riding in a car when the driver holds a class DJ or class MJ learners permit or license (Senator Lanza);

> S. 8018 - Require parents or legal guardians to attend court appearances when teen drivers are issued traffic violations (Senator Lanza);

> S. 8017 - Authorize DMV to produce a SAFE-TEEN NY sticker and make the sticker available to all parents and legal guardians. These optional stickers, which could be placed on certain vehicles, would help alert law enforcement and other drivers to the fact that a car is being driven by a young, and potentially inexperienced, driver (Senator Lanza);

> S. 8019 - Establish the SAFE-TEEN New York Driver Safety Commission, a 12-member panel of experts who would examine a wide array of factors that contribute to the high rate of car accidents involving teen drivers and make recommendations for new programs, policies, and statutes to improve teen driver safety (Senator Lanza); and

> S.4698 - Increase the number of supervised hours required before the issuance of a class DJ or class MJ license from twenty to fifty, and ensure that at least some of those hours consist of night driving (Senator Leibell).

"The intention behind this package of legislation is very simple," said Senator Leibell (R-C-I, Patterson). "We are trying to protect and save the lives of our young drivers, their friends and the innocent bystanders who are often harmed or even killed by these inexperienced drivers. Far too many lives have been tragically cut short and families have been torn apart as a result of situations that probably could have been avoided."

Last July, 17-year-old Michelle Arout was riding in the back seat of a car whose teen driver was involved in a high speed race against another teen. The two cars collided while driving between 80 and 90 miles per hour, causing the car Michelle was riding in to swerve off the road and crash. The impact sliced the vehicle in half and ejected Michelle from the back seat.

"This was a tragedy that was completely preventable," said John Arout. "Our hope is to prevent other families from going through this pain -- no parent should have to bury their child. We’re not trying to stop teens from driving. We’re trying to prevent crashes and save lives."

Earlier this month, three people lost their lives in two deadly accidents on the same day in Queens and Buffalo. Both accidents were the result of suspected drag racing.

Five-year-old Jordan McLean of Queens was thrown from his aunt’s SUV and killed after their vehicle was struck by suspected drag racers. Jordan and his aunt, Claris Edwards, were driving on 109th Avenue in Queens -- a drag racing hot spot -- when they were faced with two cars head on. After colliding with one car, the other drove off and did not return, while the passengers of the car that hit them fled the scene and have not been located by police.

Later the same day, a young man and woman were killed when their car crashed into a utility pole in a suburb of Buffalo. Police suspect they were involved in a drag race at the time of the accident.

"These tragic deaths are only the latest illustration that street racing puts peoples’ lives in danger," Senator Lanza said. "Innocent people are being killed at the hands of thrill-seeking drivers. This bill would increase penalties to deter these reckless individuals from putting peoples’ lives in jeopardy."

Legislation (S.8332) , sponsored by Senator Golden, would prohibit the use of any and all electronic devices for drivers under the age of eighteen, including but not limited to iPods, texting devices and cell phones, including hands-free cell phones This "driver distraction" bill builds on legislation passed earlier this week that would prohibit drivers from writing, sending or reading text messages while driving (S.3195-C, Senator Marcellino).

"Teen drivers are inundated with distractions while they are behind the wheel, creating a dangerous situation for themselves, their passengers, and other drivers on the road," said Senator Golden. "This bill would prohibit the use of any electronic devices by drivers under the age of eighteen, removing the distractions of technology and allowing young, more inexperienced drivers to focus on the road, making highways throughout New York State safer for all to travel."

Last month, the Senate passed legislation (S.6985, Senator Seward) that would create an advisory panel on driver education availability and curriculum enhancement, in order to improve the quality and availability of driver education in New York State.

"If we want safer roads and fewer accidents, we have to look at ways we can increase the quality and the availability of driver education," said Senator James Seward (R-C-I, Oneonta). "Driver education is currently not available to many teens in a school setting in New York State, and that's the most convenient and likely place for teens to get driver education. The legislation passed by the senate would offer a look at how we can improve driver education and make it more available in schools without burdening property taxpayers."

"As the author of the Graduated Driver Licensing Law which added more training requirements for young novice drivers, I’m pleased to support this package of legislation which will no doubt build upon the successes we’ve seen so far with the current GDL law," said Senator Owen H. Johnson (R-Babylon). "It’s been reported that since the GDL law was enacted, accidents involving drivers ages 16 to 17 dropped more than 18 percent in Suffolk County from 2003 to 2005. But we need to do even more. This package of bills will help save even more lives by requiring additional supervised driving, greater parental involvement and improving teen driver safety overall."