Curriculum Changes Aimed At Improving Driver Safety

TRENTON – Citing the need to better educate new drivers who may have hit their first “bump in the road,” New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission Chief Administrator Sharon A. Harrington unveiled a newly overhauled Probationary Driver Program (PDP) curriculum today. The PDP is mandated for new (probationary) drivers who are convicted of two or more moving violations totaling four or more points in their first two years of driving.

New drivers who are remanded to the PDP must successfully complete the four-hour program that provides up to a three-point reduction on the driver’s record. Any driver who fails to complete the program is suspended indefinitely. A driver who completes the program and who commits a violation within one year after finishing the program will have his or her driving privilege suspended for 45 – 90 days. The new PDP curriculum covers a variety of important topics, including Graduated Driver License rules and restrictions, aggressive driving, distractions, driving under the influence and penalties such as surcharges and suspensions.

“If we are going to make good on our promise to do everything possible to prevent teen driver deaths and injuries, then it is essential that we have a thorough and effective program that corrects the improper or dangerous actions of new drivers,” said Harrington. “The old curriculum for the Probationary Driver Program was outdated and amounted to nothing more than a lecture, which is not an effective approach to improving safety.”

Facing a more than 20-year-old curriculum, the MVC formed an internal project team, consisting of staff from the Commission’s Division of Compliance & Safety and Office of Employee Development, to research and overhaul the program, which holds new drivers accountable for their actions behind the wheel. The team began its work to identify and resolve various problems within the PDP curriculum such as program inconsistency, program manual readability and content, limited use of visual aides or technology, and a lack of methods to evaluate the effectiveness of PDP instructors and the overall program.

First and foremost, the team’s goal was to improve the value and effectiveness of the PDP by eliminating the lecture style of the program and moving to a participatory classroom experience that would engage attendees, help them better internalize the issues covered and encourage safer, more responsible driving habits. The team also addressed the physical environment in which the PDP curriculum was presented to participants, ensuring that all sites could properly support the new format of the program.

Once the curriculum and associated training materials were finalized, the project team field tested the classroom experience with existing PDP instructors who gave the overhaul very positive reviews. A training plan for both existing and new instructors was developed in order to ensure consistency and effectiveness of curriculum presentation throughout the program.

One aspect new to the PDP curriculum is the use of a video presentation featuring the volunteers of Project Lundy, a peer-to-peer driver education group formed in memory of a classmate who was the victim of a 2007 motor vehicle crash in Freehold. Project Lundy is an integral part of helping to make new, teen drivers aware of the consequences of the actions that led them to the PDP class. The video offers a discussion of issues facing new drivers, as well as personal stories related to the tragedy surrounding the 2007 crash.

Mandated PDP attendance volume has been on a decline for the last decade due to the increased practice of plea agreements that allows drivers to avoid points that would otherwise trigger the requirement to attend a PDP course. Volume has declined from about 19,000 participants in 1997 to about 7,000 in 2000. However, following a Sept. 17 directive issued by Attorney General Anne Milgram, it is expected that mandatory PDP attendance will see an increase. The directive prohibits municipal courts from offering no-point plea agreements to drivers who possess a Graduated Driver License.

“Teen drivers must take responsibility for their actions,” added Harrington. “It doesn’t benefit a teen when he or she is allowed to avoid a penalty for poor driving. Our new PDP, along with a number of other positive changes that we expect in the coming months, will address a variety of teen driver issues and help to eliminate needless deaths or injuries.”

With a number of teen driver-related bills pending in the New Jersey Legislature, and the possibility for additional legislation based on recommendations published by Governor Corzine’s Teen Driver Safety Study Commission, efforts to reduce the number of teen driver-related injuries and deaths are well underway.

Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death among teens in the United States. Nationally, an average of 6,000 teens are killed and 300,000 are injured each year in automobile crashes. In 2006, there were 55,792 teen crashes in New Jersey. While many of these crashes were not life threatening, 48 teen drivers and 19 teen passengers driven by teens, died. Speed, distractions, inexperience and the lack of seat belt use were prevalent factors in these fatal crashes. In some cases, the teen driver involved had multiple violations on his or her driving record.

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