Press Release - 04-19-2023

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Wednesday, April 19, 2023     


Statewide Initiative Focuses on Safe Teen Driving During Prom and Graduation Season 

Enforcement Initiative to Run from April 24 Through April 28


The Governor's Traffic Safety Committee (GTSC) and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)  marked the start of the “No Empty Chair” campaign with an event at Guilderland High School today. The teen driving safety education and enforcement campaign, which begins on Monday, April 24 and runs through Friday, April 28, 2023, raises awareness of highway dangers in the hope there will be no empty chairs during prom and graduation season.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Car crashes are higher among teens ages 16 to 19 than any other age group. 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. 

“Prom and graduation are two of the most important milestones to a young person, and our mission is to make sure that those who plan to attend them have that chance,” said GTSC Chair and DMV Commissioner Mark J.F. Schroeder. “That’s why it’s crucial to take a coordinated approach through peer-to-peer education, enforcement and community engagement to remind young drivers about their responsibility as motorists and the consequences of driving recklessly, distracted or impaired. We have an obligation to our children to ensure there are no empty chairs during prom and graduation season this year.”

Through this campaign, in partnership with Students Against Destructive Decisions, (SADD), GTSC and DMV aim to educate young drivers about the challenges and dangers they may face on the road. Statewide SADD chapters will be hosting student-focused events in their communities, inviting survivor advocates to speak at schools across the state, and will provide information about underage drinking to schools, that can be shared with parents and guardians as they plan to host graduation and prom parties. SADD will also utilize social media to promote the No Empty Chair message.

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.

Lauren Zimmerman-Meade, Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) Director of Field Engagement said, “Prom and graduation are some of the most exciting times for our young folks across the State. SADD wants to be sure that they are safe times as well. No Empty Chair week has always been a focus for New York SADD and continues to impress the importance of making well-informed, safe decisions to assure that everyone is in their chairs for graduation day and well beyond. SADD educates caring adults on setting boundaries and expectations for young folks and emphasizes their roles in mitigating substance use by not serving minors or allowing underage consumption of drugs or alcohol. We work with students on planning a safe ride to and from these important events with a trustworthy driver and educate them on GDL laws, like keeping passengers to a minimum, limiting all distractions, including devices, and watching your speed. Remember students: the safe decision may not always be the popular one, but it could determine your future. Be the person that speaks up and makes sure there are no empty chairs in your community.”

New York State Police Acting Superintendent Steven A. Nigrelli said, “Nearly every year, communities across New York state experience the tragic deaths of high school students in traffic crashes just prior to graduation. We want our teens to enjoy their high school days, but also make smart choices to make it to the next stage of their lives. The New York State Police urges everyone to not drive impaired, wear a seat belt, slow down, and put cell phones away while behind the wheel. Together, we can keep our roadways safe for all.”

Albany County Sheriff and President of the NYS Sheriffs’ Association, Craig Apple Sr. said, “Drivers should always be safe and courteous but nowhere is that more important than around our schools. School buses, walkers, and bicycles make these areas congested and unpredictable so slow down, put the phone down, and make sure the roads and parking lots near schools are safe for our kids.” 

New York State Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director and Town of Greece Police Department Chief Patrick Phelan (ret) said, “We pledge our support of the No Empty Chair campaign.  It is our mission to prevent needless and tragic motor vehicle crashes that take the lives of our young people.  Law enforcement officers across the State will be vigilant in enforcing traffic violations to counteract poor decisions that all too often result in tragic consequences.”

The 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.