Press Release - 04-18-2024

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Thursday, April 18, 2024     


Motor Vehicle Crashes are Leading Cause of Death for Young Adults

Statewide ‘No Empty Chair’ Initiative Focuses on Safe Teen Driving During Prom and Graduation Season 

Education and Enforcement Initiative to Run from April 22 Through April 26

The Governor's Traffic Safety Committee (GTSC) and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in partnership with Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) today marked the beginning of the “No Empty Chair” campaign, which aims to eradicate teen driving deaths so there will be no empty chairs during prom and graduation season. The teen driving education and enforcement campaign begins on Monday, April 22 and runs through Friday, April 26, 2024.  

“The number one goal of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee is to save lives,” said GTSC Chair and DMV Commissioner Mark J.F. Schroeder. “Making sure young drivers understand and recognize risks on the roadways and how to mitigate them, every time they’re in a vehicle, whether they’re the driver or a passenger, is essential to ensuring a safer driving population, but most importantly preventing unnecessary tragedies for families across New York State.”

Together, GTSC, DMV and SADD bring this campaign to schools across the state to educate young drivers about the challenges and dangers they may face on the road. From now until the end of the school year, SADD chapters across New York State will be hosting student-focused events in their communities, inviting survivor advocates to speak at schools, as well as providing information about underage drinking that can be shared with parents and guardians as they plan to host graduation and prom parties.

In addition to educating students about safe driving, state and local law enforcement will increase patrols near local high schools throughout the state, and officers will be vigilant in enforcing violations of the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) law. The GDL is intended to provide time for young drivers to gain critical experience in various traffic scenarios in a safe and controlled manner.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for young adults in the United States. In 2021, 3,058 teenagers under 19 years of age died in motor vehicle crashes, which is 11 percent more than in 2020. Per miles driven, teen drivers in this age group are nearly three times as likely to be in a fatal crash as drivers 20-years-old or older. 

Lauren Zimmerman-Meade, Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) Director of Field Engagement said, “SADD spends the better part of every school year equipping and training our students across the State for this time. We want to see all our students in their seats for prom & graduation day, celebrating their accomplishments, and moving on to successful learning opportunities, careers, and healthy, injury-free lives. Students, we urge you to be your own best advocates and require your peers to buckle up, put the phones away, and slow down. If you feel unsafe, speak up, say something! Make a backup plan for a safe ride now, and never be afraid to reach out to a caring adult to get you out of a scary situation; it could save your life and others.”

New York State Police Superintendent Steven G. James said, “Each year, thousands of high school students look forward to attending prom and graduation across New York State. Sadly, these memorable moments can be destroyed when a young person dies in a preventable crash. The New York State Police urges everyone to wear your seat belt, slow down, and put your cell phones away while behind the wheel. Together, we can get our teens to graduation and start the next chapter of their lives.”

Delaware County Sheriff and President of the NYS Sheriffs’ Association Craig DuMond said, “Schools should be safe areas for students, inside and out.  We can all do our part outside schools by driving safely and not speeding, wearing seat belts, putting the phones down, looking for red lights on school buses, and not driving impaired.  The Sheriffs of New York State don’t want to see any empty chairs on graduation day.” 

New York State Association of Chiefs of Police President and City of Batavia Police Department Chief Shawn Heubusch said, “The New York State Association of Chiefs of Police is dedicated to the New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee’s No Empty Chair Campaign. Police officers across New York State will be out enforcing and educating our young drivers on the hazards associated with careless and dangerous driving. We will do our part to make sure all students make it to their graduation day.”

GTSC offers a Younger Driver Toolkit including resources for coaches and school resource officers. Additional younger driver resources are also available on the DMV website.

Combined with education and enforcement campaigns, GTSC coordinates various traffic safety activities throughout the year and supports ongoing initiatives to improve pedestrian, motorcycle, and bicycle safety. The GTSC also sponsors critical training for law enforcement, provides resources for teen drivers and their parents, and promotes seatbelt use statewide.