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PennDOT, police bring attention to new driving law aimed at teens

February 15, 2012

A new state law states drivers and occupants under the age of 18 can be cited for a primary offense if they are not wearing a seat belt. Seventeen-year-old teen driver Brittany Pearce, Rossiter, understands the importance of the law that went into effect Dec. 27, 2011. (Photo by Natalie Bruzda)

BROOKVILLE — A new statewide initiative has local police department officers reminding teen drivers to click it or ticket.

This week, Brookville Borough Police teamed up with Brookville Jr.-Sr. High School to take part in PennDOT’s teen driver safety mobilization, an initiative intended to inform teen drivers about a new seatbelt law.

“Today, it’s not about issuing citations,” PennDOT Safety Press Officer Shawn Houck said. “It’s about awareness. We’re trying to get the message out.”

Act 81, which went into effect Dec. 27, 2011, states that drivers and occupants in a vehicle who are under the age of 18 must wear a properly adjusted and fastened seatbelt, and children under the age of eight must be securely fastened in a child restraint system.

Failure to comply with the new law’s seat-belt provisions is a primary offense, meaning that a driver can be pulled over and cited solely for violating this provision.

In addition, the law also states that for the first six months after receiving their junior license, drivers are not permitted to have more than one passenger under the age of 18 who is not an immediate family member in their vehicle, unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

“Time and time again, we see police and EMS personnel going out to a one-vehicle crash that has as many as two, three, four, maybe even five teens in the car,” Houck said. “It’s catastrophic to go out and see that one crash has claimed four or five lives.”

Monday, Houck, Brookville Borough Police Chief Ken Dworek and Brookville Officers Mick Stormer and Samuel Bartley stopped Brookville Jr.-Sr. High School teen drivers as they were leaving school grounds to remind them of the new law.

If Dworek witnessed teens in violation of any part of Act 81, he gave them a friendly reminder.

“Any time you get a multiple amount of people in a car — especially teen drivers — you combine the lack of experience in driving and mulitiple distractions,” Houck said. “It’s basically a crash waiting to happen. So the law is a very, very good law.”

According to Houck, one out of every six teenagers are involved in a serious crash.

Statewide statistics show that in 2010, there were 61 teenagers, 16 to 19 years old, who were killed in a crash and did not have their seat-belt on.
“Driving a car will be one of the most dangerous things (teens will) do in their lives, and hopefully, this law will save a lot of lives, because they’re our future leaders,” Houck said. “We finally are up to the point now where we feel like we have a pretty good law protecting our teen drivers.”

Teens who are found to be operating a vehicle with more passengers than seatbelts can receive up to a $60 fine, while failing to provide or failing to properly use a child-restraint system can result in a $75 fine.

Throughout his career in law enforcement, Dworek said he has witnessed the effectiveness of enforcing seatbelt, aggressive driving and DUI laws.
The figure has dropped down from 55,000 traffic deaths to about 33,000.

“We have more drivers, but we have less deaths, and that’s because of the enforcement,” Dworek said.

Although the teen driver safety mobilization program is not taking place at every district in the state, all Pennsylvania teen drivers have received a packet of information about the new law, Houck said.

But enforcement on the roadways near Brookville Jr.-Sr. High School will continue through March 4.

“This is the perfect example of how police, working with the school district, can get the message out to teen drivers and their parents,” Houck said. “If you’re sending your kid to school, it’s OK to have a sibling, but if they’re stopping on the way and picking up four or five other kids, it’s now illegal to do that.”

For more information, visit www.DriveSafePA.org.

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