2010-05-28 / Community

DMV Commissioner Warns Teens

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. On Tuesday, May 18, the Commissioner addressed students and parents at the South Glens Falls High School in upstate New York. The school lost two teenage students in a car crash last year. In his remarks at both events, 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,

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 groups attending the Commissioner’s presentation were made up of students from the schools’ leadership and sports groups, teachers and school staff who are parents of teen drivers. Kelly Kline who is employed at West Seneca High School lost her son, A.J. Larson in a car crash 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 sevenyear 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.”

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.

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