Statement on Teen Driving in Connecticut with Senator Dodd

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 5, 2005 (202) 408-1711 x27

Cromwell, Connecticut -- Following is a statement from Judie Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, in support of S.795, the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act of 2005 (STANDUP), sponsored by Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Senator John Warner (R-VA):

Good morning, my name is Judie Stone. I am president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), which is a coalition of consumer, medical, safety and insurance organizations working together on a broad range of highway and auto safety public policies that lead to fewer deaths and injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes.

I am pleased to be here today in support of the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection, or STANDUP Act of 2005, sponsored by Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Senator John Warner (R-VA). The STANDUP Act will help us all make important improvements to the many teen driving programs that exist across the nation, and to create a more uniform national system to save lives of beginning drivers and others involved in crashes with them. Although most states have some provisions of a graduated driver licensing (GDL) system, the nation is really a patchwork quilt of laws, no state has the optimum program, and millions of teens are at risk every year because of weak or incomplete graduated driver licensing laws.

Two weeks ago the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released preliminary data on 2004 motor vehicle fatalities and injuries, and the news was not good. Overall highway deaths increased from 2003. There was over a 1.3% jump in fatalities involving young drivers ages 16 to 20. Imagine, there were 8,566 people killed throughout the nation in motor vehicle crashes involving young drivers. That is about three (3) times the number of children under 20 in Cromwell, or the entire population of Old Lyme, Connecticut, in just one year.

Every major community in the United States has an understanding of the urgent need for action to curtail the growing number of needless tragedies among beginning teen drivers. One life lost to a motor vehicle crash is a tragedy; thousands lost each year, especially in this age range of 16 -20 years old, is a raging public health epidemic.

The Dodd/Warner STANDUP Act takes a firm, caring and proven approach to this problem, by first providing incentive grants to states that meet certain key criteria, then after three years by withholding a small amount of the state's federal highway construction funds until they do meet minimum requirements. This so-called "sanction" provision is really a win-win for all. States benefit from the incentive grants, and are compelled to adopt the law's minimum requirements because they don't want to lose highway money. Laws are passed, the state gains and saves money for more good works, and lives are ultimately saved.

This approach has resulted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia having a 21 legal minimum drinking age, all 50 states and the District of Columbia lowering their legal blood alcohol content laws to .08%, and all states having uniform teen drinking and driving laws. Literally thousands of people are alive today because of these three laws alone.

All states have these essential laws, all states are saving thousands of lives each year, and no state lost a single dollar of federal highway construction money. It makes no sense for teens driving in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey or Massachusetts to have a different set of rules for the road.

Advocates has worked in Connecticut over the years to upgrade its teen driving laws and we are pleased to see legislation moving in Hartford this year to limit nighttime driving for beginning teen drivers, and to require more behind-the-wheel practice time. By the time S.795 becomes law, perhaps Connecticut will be first in line to receive incentive grants.

So thank you, Senator Dodd, and Senator John Warner (R-VA), for standing up to this public health epidemic that is destroying the lives of so many young people, their friends and families. Thank you for providing exemplary leadership in the United States Congress on this incredibly important family issue. Advocates will be with you every step of the way until we see this lifesaving legislation enacted into law.

At a time when there are many issues that separate Members of Congress because of their party affiliation or geographic location in the United States, let's work together so that in the 109th Congress we can say that bi-partisan legislation was passed that saves teens, no matter where they live or what political views they hold.

It certainly is an issue whose time has come.

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Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), an alliance of consumer, health and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America's roads safer, is actively involved at the federal and state levels to reduce the terrible tragedy of crashes to families across the nation.

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