WASHINGTON, March 8, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Gathered in a U.S. Capitol meeting room, a coalition of parents, teens, pediatricians, safety advocates, insurance and other business executives joined Senate and House sponsors to support introduction of major national teen driving legislation which will accelerate adoption of model state graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws for beginning teen drivers.
The Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection (STANDUP) Act, sponsored by Senators Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Klobuchar (D-MN) and others in the U.S. Senate, sets minimum standards for state GDL laws, proven to reduce deaths and injuries among young, inexperienced drivers and those who share the road with them. The STANDUP bill is expected to be introduced this week in the Senate, and soon after in the House, with Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) as lead sponsors.
"Every teen in every state should be protected by an effective and comprehensive GDL law," said Jackie Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates). "Over the last five years alone, over 40,000 teens have died in motor vehicle crashes and hundreds of thousands more have suffered debilitating injuries. The economic and emotional costs for parents, family and friends are unacceptable and unnecessary. Studies show that the annual cost of teen crashes is over $30 billion. We could use that money to pay the four year tuition of over a million teens at a four year public university. That's equal to the entire teen population in the State of Illinois. We can't afford the cost or the horrific loss of so many young lives any longer. It's time for action."
To lend support for STANDUP and to lobby their Senators and Representatives, a broad and representative group of parents who have lost their children in teen-related motor vehicle crashes traveled to Congress from states around the country. Also in support and attending the U.S. Capitol press conference were two high school teens from South Dakota and New York, both active in student campaigns to improve teen driving practices and laws. Another young man from the State of Washington participated who survived a teen driving crash when he was 14 years old that resulted in lifelong brain trauma.
Jerry Assa of Plainview, New York, lost his 16-year-old son, Brian, in a January 2008 crash. "It's been three years since Brian's crash, the shock of it seems like yesterday, and it probably always will," Assa said. "I speak to teens across New York about the importance of thinking before acting dangerously. However, passing STANDUP will lead to enactment of tougher teen driving laws in every state, the most important and successful strategy in protecting our children's lives."
Alan Brown, from Kennesaw, Georgia, has successfully raised funds with his wife through the Joshua Brown Foundation to support his son's former high school driver education program. Joshua was killed when he was 17 years old, in July of 2003. "Nothing will bring Joshua back, but improving programs and driving laws for millions of teens is the best tribute to Joshua and gives meaning to our terrible and tragic loss."
Marlene Case, of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, said "words will never describe the profound and permanent depth of the death of my 17-year-old son, Andrew. He was one of five teen passengers in a car driven by a 16-year-old that crashed in November, 2009. I have worked in the Pennsylvania Legislature," she continued, "to change Pennsylvania's teen driving laws, but I do not think the states are moving fast enough. This is why I am speaking out in favor of passing the STANDUP Act, and will be talking to my Congressional delegation to join this national lifesaving effort."
Sherry Chapman of Hartford, Connecticut, formed Mourning Parents Act (or !MPACT) shortly after Ryan Ramirez, her 19-year-old son, was killed in a crash caused by a teen driver in December 2002. She has played a key role in upgrading Connecticut's laws and has been an avid supporter of federal leadership to accelerate state passage of strong teen driving laws. "No parent should have to suffer the loss of a child when we know how to prevent it. All of the parents here today with me represent only a handful of the thousands of parents who bury a teen son or daughter every year because of a car crash," Chapman said. "Our lives have been changed forever and it's time to stop the highway carnage."
Megan Daugherty of Mamaroneck, New York, is a 17-year-old senior at Rye Neck High School and an active member of her school's SADD Chapter (Students Against Destructive Decisions). "When a high school classmate is killed or suffers a lifelong injury from an auto crash, it gets our attention," she said. "But teens are fearless and we never think it's going to happen to me or a friend. Strong teen driving laws with restrictions on passengers, night time driving and cell phone use help us deal with peer pressure and we know will make us safer drivers. It is no surprise that three-quarters of teens support the lifesaving provisions required in the STANDUP Act."
Captain Tom Didone is 5th District Commander of the Montgomery County (Maryland) Police Department. Ryan, his 15-year-old son, was killed in October of 2008, while riding with four other youths when the teen driver lost control and hit a tree. "I am committed to seeing enactment of the STANDUP Act in memory of Ryan. As a law enforcement officer I know the benefit of strong teen driving laws and as a father, I know the heartbreak of losing a young man I loved who would have made a tremendous contribution to society. I urge Senators and Representatives to make adoption of this bill a priority." Didone, who is a leading advocate for the bill, said. "Every year over 5,600 people died in crashes involving teen drivers. Enough is enough. Let's pass this bill."
Elliot Johnson, a 16-year-old sophomore at Brookings (South Dakota) High School, traveled to Washington to express his support for the STANDUP Act and served as a teen spokesperson at the press conference, reporting results of a survey of teens conducted by Allstate Insurance He said, based on the study, "Clearly teens support the key components of the STANDUP Act. Who knew you could get 74 percent of teens to agree on anything!" He also pointed out that his own state of South Dakota has numerous rural roads that are especially hazardous for teen drivers.
Eilene Okerblom of Santa Maria, California lost her 19-year-old son, Eric, when the bicycle he was riding was hit by a distracted teen driver in July of 2009. "As we gather here today on this very important occasion, my husband, Dr. Robert Okerblom, is riding his bicycle across the country to bring awareness to the issue of distracted driving," she said. "I am here to express our family's strong support for the STANDUP Act because it will change the driving behavior of teens, it will address the deadly problem of distracted driving and it will save lives. Eric died needlessly and I urge you to please pass this commonsense law."
Jim Portell from Davenport, Florida, calls his daughter Jamie, his best friend. Jamie, at age 15, was killed in a car crash in October of 2002 when the teen driver overcorrected and rolled over several times. Jim has been active in advocating for primary seat belt laws, stronger vehicle safety standards to protect occupants in rollover crashes as well as better graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about and miss Jamie," Portell said. "She would probably be proud of my advocacy, but I won't be proud until we see the STANDUP Act passed, so that every state will meet minimum standards in their GDL programs."
Tyler Presnell lives in Vancouver, Washington, survived a teen-driver car crash in 1999 but suffered brain and other injuries, resulting in more than 10 years of surgeries and adjustments to every day life. This is his second trip to Washington, DC to advocate for the STANDUP Act. "One of the most important things Congress can do this year is pass the STANDUP Act," he said. "I am one of those statistics, a person whose life has been dramatically changed because a teenager behind the wheel was inexperienced and made the wrong decisions. Weak teen driving laws contribute to severe crashes that kill, maim and cost us billions of dollars every year."
Ray Sanderbeck, Medina, Ohio, lost his daughter, Michelle, when she died in a car crash at age 15 in March of 2006. Michelle was one of five passengers when the teen driver lost control of the car. Sanderbeck said, "Michelle would have turned 21 next month and her life was filled with hope and promise. It was a life that would have continued to make a contribution to society and touch the hearts and souls of everyone she met. Her loss is a terrible family nightmare, but we want our tragic loss to result in something positive for other families. We ask that you please support the STANDUP Act and don't let another Michelle needlessly die because these tragedies can be prevented."
Susan Vavala, Wilmington, Delaware, has been active for over 15 years as a leading advocate for stronger GDL laws, in her home state and in the U.S. Congress, following the death of her daughter, Kim, age 15, in a teen driving crash in 1995 less than two miles from her house. "It's too late for Kim, but it is not too late for the rest of us," she said. "All who share the road with teen drivers are potential victims of their inexperience. The purpose of GDL and the STANDUP Act is not to punish but to protect, by gradually introducing young drivers to the responsibilities and skills of driving. We know that these laws save lives, yet not all states have them. It is our responsibility as adults, as parents and legislators, to teach and protect our children. Delaware's experience with GDL demonstrates the lifesaving potential. Since the state of Delaware enacted our strong GDL law in June 1999, crashes involving 16-year-old drivers have been reduced by almost 60%."
Bill Walter, Perry Hall, Maryland, spoke publicly for the first time in the fall of 2010 about the loss of his 17-year-old son, Matt, from injuries sustained in an April 1999 teen-driver crash. "The 12th anniversary of that terrible day is approaching, but the pain never goes away," Walter said. "Perhaps by telling Matt's story and that of our family's unspeakable loss we can do some good and prevent others from going through what we endure every day of our lives. STANDUP needs to be the law of the land, so states will upgrade their laws and fewer teens will be lost in these senseless and preventable tragedies."
Also speaking at the press conference and representing the American Academy of Pediatrics
was Dr. Joseph L. Wright, Sr. Vice President, Child Health Advocacy Institute and Vice Chairman of Pediatrics at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. "As an emergency physician," Dr. Wright said, "I can tell you first-hand about the heartbreaking toll of auto crashes among our nation's youth. These statistics and stories are tragic, but they should also galvanize us all to action. Teen driving crashes represent a major and costly public health crisis, but it that has a ready treatment -- prevention. I speak today as a pediatrician, an emergency room physician, and most importantly, as a father, when I call on Congress to pass the STANDUP Act to protect our children, our families and our communities."
SOURCE Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety