[for additional information about the STANDUP Act, go to www.saferoads4teens.org]
November , 2009
The Hon. Christopher J. Dodd
United States Senate
448 Russell Building
Washington, DC 20510
Re: H.R. 1895, The Safe Teen Driving and Novice Driver Uniform Protection (“STANDUP”) Act
Dear Senator Dodd:
I write to join thousands of parents and auto safety experts in urging you to re-introduce in the U.S. Senate the STANDUP Act, to use federal financial incentives and sanctions to prod states to adopt minimum national standards for their safe teen driving laws.
I write from searing personal experience and a two year odyssey of education about teen driving. My son Reid, 17 years old, died in a one-car accident on Interstate 84 in Plainville, Connecticut in December 2006. In December 2007, Governor Rell appointed me as a bereaved parent to Connecticut’s Teen Safe Driving Task Force, which she formed in the aftermath of several horrific teen driver and passenger fatalities. The Task Force was charged with thoroughly reviewing Connecticut’s graduated driver laws (“GDLs”). Serving on that Task Force, I immersed myself in the facts of teen driving and learned what the mainstream literature available to parents barely discloses: that driving is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for people under age 20, far surpassing suicide, disease, and other types of accidents; teens have crash rates three times that of older drivers; strict GDLs (supplemented by public education and enforcement) are a proven, effective way to reduce teen driver crashes and fatalities; and yet, across the nation, teen driver laws vary widely, with many states dragging their feet even while voluminous research points clearly toward the benefits of stricter teen driving laws.
Connecticut’s Task Force, I am proud to say, helped transform our state’s teen driver laws, previously among the weakest in the country, into one of the strongest. A state-sponsored public awareness campaign followed our new law’s August 2008 effective date, and 2009 is now shaping up to be the safest year ever for our state’s teen drivers. The STANDUP Act will induce every state to follow this lead, to amend its GDLs to reflect the significantly higher crash rates of new, young drivers.
My immersion in teen driving during 2007-08 led me in October 2009 to launch a new national blog for parents of teen drivers, entitled “From Reid’s Dad,” found at www.fromreidsdad.org. My goal is to provide parents with better information about teen driving than appears in most of the information available from motor vehicle departments and commercial driving schools. In trying to raise the information level nationally for parents, my blog is consistent with the goals of the STANDUP Act. In the blog’s first two weeks the enthusiastic, national response has further convinced me that the time is right for comprehensive, national GDL standards.
The federal government should be a strong partner with the states when it comes to saving lives and preventing injuries, and teen driving laws present an appropriate situation for federal intervention: a documented public health and safety crisis; a proven, low-cost solution; an enforcement mechanism through federal highway funds; and a track record of successful similar interventions (seat belts, drunk-driving laws, and child safety seats). The current patchwork of, and variations within, state teen driving laws is public policy madness that the federal government has the power and ample reasons to rectify.
Federal involvement invariably generates complaints in certain communities about states’ rights, unfunded federal mandates, and infringements on individual freedoms. Recently, a City Councilman in Cheyenne, Wyoming, arguing against that City’s ban on use of a hand-held cell phone while driving, was quoted as saying, “If I’m driving down the road, minding my own business and talking on my cell phone, leave me alone.” The fallacy in this statement is its assumption that a driver engaged in conduct that is demonstrably dangerous is “minding his own business.” Teen driver crashes affect everyone and should therefore be the concern of every driver throughout the nation on every road, every day.
The U.S. Senate needs to join the House and provide leadership on this issue. Too many lives are at stake. As a constituent of yours for 25 years, as a bereaved parent, and as a concerned driver and citizen, I urge you to be an energetic, articulate, common sense voice for this essential legislation. Thank you.
Very truly yours,
Timothy S. Hollister