U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (PA-15) helped observe National Teen Driver Safety Week, Oct. 19-25, speaking with members of a driver safety task force at Lehigh Valley Health Network – including representatives of PennDOT, the Lehigh Valley DUI Task Force, local police officials, and others — to help promote safe driving practices among young drivers.

In 2007, Rep. Dent, along with U.S. Senator Robert Casey, secured passage of a resolution in Congress to designate the third week of October National Teen Driver Safety Week. Congressman Dent helped lead the effort because in the Lehigh Valley across the five year period from 2001 to 2005, there were 13,301 total vehicle crashes involving teens and novice drivers, resulting in 65 deaths and more than 5,000 injuries.

“During this third week of October, we shine the spotlight on teen car crashes and the things that can be done and are being done to try to reduce them – such as laws governing distracted driving and education about its dangers,” Congressman Dent said. “And of course the most important example begins at home, as parents establish guidelines for teen drivers.”

For more information on how to set guidelines for teen drivers, please visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website: www.nhtsa.gov.

Full text of Congressman Dent’s remarks:

In 2007 I co-sponsored a resolution in Congress to establish the third week of October as National Teen Driver Safety Week. Its mission is to bring teens, community leaders, educators, and parents together to take action and increase awareness to help prevent teen crashes, the leading cause of death for American teens.

Every year in this country, nearly 6,000 teens die in car crashes. This is the equivalent of 12 jumbo jets crashing. If that were to happen, the national spotlight would shine brightly on the problem and massive amounts of resources would be funneled into correcting the problems that caused the crashes.

The difference, of course, is that when car crashes take the lives of teens, they happen one at a time, all over the country, on city highways and on country roads. They happen here in the Lehigh Valley and every time they happen, we mourn along with the families, friends, and communities who suffer devastating loss of young life.

So during this third week of October, we shine the spotlight on teen car crashes and the things that can be done and are being done to try to reduce them.

States that have strengthened their Graduated Driver Licensing by prohibiting a newly licensed teen driver from carrying other teens in the car have reduced crashes.

Distracted driving involving cell phone use and texting by teens has also garnered a lot of attention recently and many states are adopting measures to curb the use of electronic devices by drivers.

Making sure every driver and passenger is wearing seatbelts and eliminating driving under the influence of alcohol have been proven to reduce highway deaths. We constantly have to reinforce these efforts to promote public safety.

We know that legislation alone is not the solution. The theme of National Teen Driver Safety Week this year is to get parents involved to increase their awareness of teen driver safety. Research has shown that parents can play a large part to ensure teens stay safe on the road.

Two new studies released by researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia reveal a link between teen driver crashes and the way families communicate and approach rules about safety. Researchers found teens are half as likely to crash and far less likely to drink and drive, use a cell phone, or speed if their parents set clear rules, pay attention to where they’re going, who they’ll be with, and when they’ll be home in a supportive way. In addition, the researchers found teens that reported being the main driver of a car were twice as likely to have been in a crash than teens who said they share a car with other family members.

Here in the Lehigh Valley, the Community Health Department at Lehigh Valley Health Network, working with partners like the Lehigh Valley DUI/Highway Safety Task Force, has been focusing its attention on teen driving safety.

Among the department’s efforts has been the development of resources for parents to use to help keep teen drivers safe. These resources have been shared with every high school in our region and are available to every parent of a teen driver.

The Road Map to Safe Teen Driving is being used by parents to help teach their teenager to drive. In that process, it also helps parents correct some of their own driving behavior that might not be the best to model to their son or daughter. As the father of a 15-year-old, I know I find myself more cognizant of my own driving habits.

The Parent-Teen Agreement is to be filled out by parents and their teen driver together, to use in that critical period after the teen passes the driving test. It allows each family to set up stronger restrictions than those that are law.

And soon there will be a new tool for parents to use – the Parent Decision Grid. This will help parents examine if their son or daughter is ready to drive.

We know there’s another aid for parents – Driver Education with a trained professional helping teens learn how to drive. On October 9, Lehigh Valley Health Network hosted a forum on “Improving Driver Education in Pennsylvania”. The forum featured information about how other states are re-vamping and funding driver education for teens. There are local school districts that have preserved a comprehensive Driver Education program, complete with mandatory involvement of parents. We thank them for helping to prepare our teens to learn how to drive safely.

In the Lehigh Valley, the issue of teen driving safety is important and there are many partners involved in helping to keep our young drivers safe. We thank the Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust, which has supported Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Community Health Department in its efforts to promote teen driving safety. We also thank the Trauma Outreach and Emergency Medicine Departments here at Lehigh Valley Health Network for their efforts, supported by the Flemming Foundation, in studying distracted driving among teens and adult drivers and for developing an educational presentation addressing distracted driving which they take on the road to local schools.

Education and policy change are crucial elements of teen driving safety. Everyone pays attention to teen car crashes when something terrible happens. Here in the Lehigh Valley, we are striving to pay attention to these issues each and every day, in hopes of preventing these tragedies.