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Teen driving commission recommends tougher penalties for texting-while-driving

An all-teen board appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal has recommended major changes to teen driver education strategies and asked for harsher penalties for teens who break Georgia’s law banning motorists from sending text messages and using smartphones while on the road. 

Members of the Governor’s Commission on Teen Driving have also asked lawmakers to ban handheld phone use for all Georgia drivers. 

Commission members presented the recommendations to Georgia lawmakers, advocates for highway safety and public safety leaders Monday.

 The meeting was the final one for the commission before the end of the school year.

The 22-member commission, comprised of all teenagers, is administered through the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and is the first of its kind in the United States. 

The commission’s ultimate goal is to discover strategies that reduce the number of teen crashes, injuries and fatalities on Georgia’s highways. While preliminary data shows that the number of fatal crashes involving 16 and 17-year-olds declined in 2012, vehicle crashes remain the number one cause of death for teenagers in Georgia. 

The commission’s recommendations are the first organized step toward a statewide discussion of policies that might 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.” 

Among other recommendations presented Monday, board members urged policy makers to consider updating the state’s current Alcohol and Drug Awareness Program to reflect other factors that cause drivers to be impaired, such as sending text messages or using a smartphone while behind the wheel. 

Board members recommended that driver’s education courses and permitting tests for Georgia drivers include a greater focus on the dangers of distracted driving and texting while driving. 

For those who continue to text and drive after a first citation, the board recommends a graduated punishment system similar to the one set up for repeat offenders of Georgia’s laws against driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. 

Appointed by Gov. Deal in October, the commission has worked for five months to help Gov. Deal develop a statewide strategy for educating teen drivers on the risks and consequences associated with driving while distracted, texting while driving and driving while impaired by alcohol.

The group is expected to reconvene in the fall.

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