Regional teen driving safety campaign launched at Mainland

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Participants in the I Will driving safety announcements who helped launch the program at Mainland Regional High School Monday morning are Northfield Police Capt. Art Faden, Megan Lavery of Egg Harbor Township and Mainland Regional High School, Linwood-Northfield Police Chief Robert James, Joshua Noll and Andrew Lopez of Absegami High School, Corey Litton of St. Joseph High School, Nicole Curcio and Rajohn White of Buena High School, Cindy Rubiano and Amanda Martinez of Pleasantville High School, Katie Weinert of Absegami High School, Kevin McConnell of St. Augustine Prep, Christina Lee of Absegami High School and, not pictured, Jason Palermo of Oakcrest High School.
LINWOOD – The library at Mainland Regional High School was the site for the launch Monday of an all-out multimedia educational program aimed at keeping teenagers safe on the roads. The driving safety campaign, which incorporates public service announcements on television and radio along with posters and other means, will begin this week. The effort is part of the new Share the Keys campaign, and the theme of the announcements is “I Will.” In them teens pledge to practice safe driving habits.

Teenagers, sports coaches, school principals and even James Van Riemsdyk of the Flyers have contributed to the effort, appearing in videos and lending their voices to radio announcements.

The project is a collaborative effort between the Northfield and Linwood police departments, the office of Emergency Management, the South Jersey Transportation and Safety Alliance, the Atlantic County Office of Highway Traffic Safety, South Jersey Traffic Alliance, local law enforcement agencies and area high schools.

“Aug. 20 is a day that few in this community will ever forget, when we lost four young men in a tragic accident,” said Northfield-Linwood Police Chief Robert James.

“It hit this community very hard. But what we can take from that horrible event is a teachable moment. What we have learned is that a lot of misconceptions and just bad facts are out there about New Jersey’s graduated license. What we have done is use peers to help get the correct message across.”

Capt. Arthur Faden of the Northfield police set the plan in motion that brought  so many people to the table to find a way to better educate both the young drivers and their parents. Faden found a willing partner in Dave Coskey of Longport Media in Linwood, who allowed public service announcements to be filmed at the station several weeks ago using high school students. He will air the spots several times daily and use the audio clips on all five Longport Media stations.

MRHS Principal Mark Marrone called the effort “the right thing to do to educate students and their parents.” Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said the accident that killed Mainland football players Casey Brenner, Dean Khoury, Nick Conner and Edgar Bozzi a wake up call. He said constant vigilance is the best way to influence behavior.

Faden said it was only two days after the accident, on Aug. 22 that he started to talk to others about what could be done.

“The responsibility is ours to do whatever we can to not have another community go through this tragedy,” he said.

The South Jersey Traffic Alliance came on board with the Share the Keys program aimed at opening the line of communication between teen drivers and parents.

Legislation is in the works in the New Jersey state Assembly and the Senate that would require more education for new drivers, a longer permitting period, and for drivers under 18, a parent, guardian or relative who is over 21 would be required to attend a course as well.

The students who made the PSA at TV 40 were at MRHS Monday. Asked if kids at school are talking about the new GDL proposal, Amanda Martinez, a junior at Pleasantville High School, said, “I am hoping the PSA will start more conversations about the GDL and that when they hear other kids saying things like ‘I will only drive one friend’ or ‘I will be off the road by 11 p.m.’ will start people thinking.”

Megan Lavery, a MRHS sophomore and friend of the boys who were killed in the August crash, said, “I feel the PSAs will help, and I am glad that out of something so terrible that maybe something good will come of it and another high school will not have to deal with a terrible loss like this.”

As part of the campaign, at 11 p.m. every night, on certain radio and TV stations, a tone will signal the announcement: “It is 11 p.m. Do you know where your teen driver is?”

James said that will remind parents that it is time for their teen drivers to be off the road. “The provisions of the GDL have teen drivers off the road between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., and this will remind parents to make sure their teen drivers abide by the law,” he said.

Current graduated license law provides that drivers with a learner’s permit must have an experienced driver with them who must be over 21 years old. The driver may only have one passenger unless the parent or guardian is present. All occupants of the car must wear a seatbelt, and the driver may not use any handheld device like a GPS, iPod or cell phone. All probationary drivers under 21 must display a red decal on the front and rear of the vehicle.

The fines for violations of the graduated license for drivers is $100 plus court costs.

Photos by Suzanne Marino

Dave Coskey of Longport Media pledges his support for the new public service announcements Monday morning at Mainland.      

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