While state officials are heralding the findings of a new study as evidence that Connecticut's tougher teen driving laws are working, they are simultaneously urging extra caution as prom season approaches.
The study in the spotlight was done by the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Their analysis of 16- and 17-year-old drivers' crashes shows an 87 percent decrease in 2011 in those killed compared to the years leading up to the now tougher teen driving laws.
Between 2002 and 2007, the year before the current laws started, state and federal data average about eight teen drivers per year killed in crashes. In 2011 that number dropped to just one. In addition, the number of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes of any kind last year sank by 77 percent compared to 2010.
"We think this additional information shows the laws and training are working, but parents need to remain vigilant because their caution is helping to bring the numbers down," said DMV Commissioner Melody A. Currey.
With high schools around the state now starting their proms, the Commissioner is asking school principals, parents and teachers to remind students about the state's zero tolerance law for drinking and driving and the variety of teen driving laws that cover high school prom-goers. The laws can be found on the DMV's website.
These recent statistics show that since 2008, the year the tougher laws began, the state has seen a steady drop in 16- and 17-year-old drivers killed in crashes. The number has followed like a countdown from 5,4,2, and 1 for last year.
The same data for teen drivers simply being involved in fatal crashes of any kind saw numbers drop from nine in 2010 to two in 2011.
The Commissioner attributes the improvements to increased public awareness, parental safety messages and fewer teens getting licenses due to the restrictive laws.
She also said that medical professionals are embracing the public heath issue that vehicle crashes are the top cause of death for this age group.
Hospitals Help Spread Message
To help reach teens and parents on matters of safety, surgeons at three major Connecticut hospitals have assisted in creating posters to be displayed in DMV offices. (See attached). In addition, smaller versions will be e-mailed to principals and other safety advocates for their use.
Dr. Brendan Campbell of Connecticut Children's, Dr. Michael Caty of Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital and Dr. David Shapiro of St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center have worked with the DMV. They have focused on the themes of:
- "Now that you're driving, are you being safe when behind the wheel?"
- "Let's Not Meet in the Operating Room"
- "Their lives are in your hands when your hands are on the wheel."
DMV Insight Into Teen Laws and Proms
The teen-driving laws, which took effect August 1, 2008, included lengthening the time for passenger restrictions, increasing the curfew time and toughening penalties for these and other violations, such as driving under the influence. Violators face driver-license suspensions and fines.
DMV each year also receives questions regarding how the teen driving curfew affects students participating in high school proms and school-sponsored events afterward. These school-related activities usually end during the time when there is a curfew, which is from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., for 16 and 17 year-old drivers. (The curfew does not apply to drivers over 18 years-old.) DMV below attempts to give general guidance, however, each case is decided on the circumstances.
State law gives an exception for “school or religious activities” in the teen driving laws. DMV believes that the exception was intended to cover school-sponsored or sanctioned activities, whether on school grounds or off. The exception would allow driving after curfew to or from an activity such as a prom or away game, provided that there is no intervening activity to which the student is driving.
For example, a student would not be able to drive from the prom to his friend’s house, attend a post-prom party at the friend’s house, and then drive himself home. It is reasonable to expect that a student would not be driving home from a prom at 2 a.m. when the prom ended at 11 p.m., and is in the same town. If the student, however, was traveling to a school-sponsored post-prom party, then travel to the event from the prom and then from the event to home directly afterward would be allowed.
Many schools, though, hold proms and some post-prom parties in neighboring towns. The police departments in these towns may not know the out-of-town school’s prom schedule and school-sponsored post prom activities. To assist patrol officers in making a determination of whether an exception to curfew applies, the DMV suggests that the police departments in hosting towns be given advance notification of the prom itinerary by the sponsoring school district, and/or that students be provided with an official schedule of school-sponsored prom activities to carry in their vehicles.
This report is based on a press release from the DMV.