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Teen Commission Pushes Tougher Penalties for Distracted Drivers

Scott Monge

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal appointed a 22-member commission of teenagers from Tybee Island to Rome to address issues and concerns their peers face daily while navigating the state’s roadways. On Monday, the commission recommended big changes to teen driver education efforts and pushed for tougher penalties for drivers who break the state’s ban on sending text messages and using cellphones while behind the wheel.

The panel of teenagers presented several recommendations to state lawmakers, highway safety advocates and public safety leaders. Among the group’s suggestions was an appeal to lawmakers to draft a blanket ban on handheld phone use for all drivers. The board also presented a plan for policymakers to consider updating the state’s current Alcohol and Drug Awareness Program to reflect other factors, such as sending texts and using smartphones behind the wheel, that cause drivers to be impaired.

The commission’s goal is to formulate strategies to reduce teen crashes, injuries and fatalities across the state. Preliminary data shows a slight decrease in fatal crashes involving 16- and 17-year-olds in Georgia last year, but vehicle crashes continue to be the number one cause of death for teenagers in Georgia. The panel’s recommendations are the first step to discuss the statewide policies to improve that statistic.

“This is just the beginning,” said Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “We are proud to be the first state in the union to make sure that teen drivers are in the forefront of a discussion that will ultimately change their lives.”

Board members asked that driver’s education courses and permitting exams include a larger focus on distracted driving. For drivers who continue to use their phones to text while on the road after a first citation, the commission wants the state to institute a graduated punishment system. The system would be similar to Georgia’s regulations for repeat offenders of laws against driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Gov. Deal appointed the commission in October. Since then, the group has worked to create strategies for educating Georgia teens on the risks and consequences associated with driving while distracted, texting while driving and driving while under the influence of alcohol. The commission will reconvene in the fall.

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