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State launches website to help parents keep younger drivers safe

September 18, 2011
By PAIGE HOUPT - Special to the Journal , The Mining Journal

LANSING -A new state website has been unveiled to help parents regulate their teens driving privileges.

The Michigan Department of Community Health and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute have teamed up to develop Checkpoints at The website helps parents set and reinforce limits on high risk driving conditions for their young drivers.

"The program is basically an agreement between parents and drivers and it's clear communication of what is expected," said Bruce Simons-Morton, senior investigator fr the National Institutes of Health.

Simons-Morton created the "Checkpoints" program after his research found inexperienced young drivers are less likely to speed or drive risky if they understand their parent's expectations for driving.

"I think it's a great tool for parents and students to sit down and work with," said Mary Ewalt, who, along with her husband Leonard, owns Marquette's A-1 Driver Testing. "The best safeguard you could give them would be to involve the parents."

The centerpiece of the program is a parent-teen driving agreement that sets rules on driving privileges during the first year of driving. Situations such as driving at night, speeding and driving in hazardous weather are examples of situations where parents can set rules for their teen drivers.

"Newly licensed drivers take a long time to develop a good driving judgment, and the basic approach is to get experience without crashing" Simons-Morton said. "The program basically admits that when parents are involved during their teens' first months of driving, the teens are more likely to drive during the day and practice safe habits."

Ewalt said that in the years since Michigan instituted the graduated license policy - which places limits on certain driving factors for the first year after a license is acquired - teen road safety has improved. When they first receive a license, she said, teenagers are just learning to drive and need time to become acquainted with operating a vehicle.

"They don't understand the energy that is involved in an accident and how that does physical harm to a body. They're just learning to be defensive drivers and they're just learning about the whole process of defensive driving," she said.

According to Michigan Department of Community Health Director Olga Dazzo, prevention of motor vehicle injuries and deaths is also one of the goals for public safety on the governor's dashboard. That is a website citizens can compare Michigan's performance on public safety and quality of life with that of other states.

"I encourage all Michigan parents to visit the website to learn more about teen driving safety and to register to use the free interactive driving agreement," Dazzo said. "As more parents use this evidence-based, cost effective strategy, we can improve teen driving safety in Michigan."

The University of Michigan did two separate research studies to test its effectiveness.

"Both studies showed very good results," said Raymond Bingham, a research professor with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Bingham and his team introduced the program to a group of driver's education students whose parents were present. But they found it was more effective when the driving instructor introduced it.

The program has been used in Maryland and parts of Connecticut and has shown a decrease is speeding tickets given to adolescent drivers, Simons-Morton said. "We hope to take the Checkpoints program and use it in other states."

The creators plan to measure the website's activity within the next few weeks. It has already recorded several thousand visits.

"We have a bunch of Michigan partners who are helping disseminating it," Bingham said.

Ewalt said that, as test administrators, her employees can do very little to influence the future driving habits of teenagers applying for licenses.

"We're like a scorekeeper," she said. "We basically keep the score of the test. The examiner doesn't decide who passes or who fails. He just keeps the score."



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