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Community keeps teen drivers safe

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Watching TV, listening to an iPod and text messaging while doing homework is a typical day in the life of today's multitasking teen. Unfortunately, teens often try these activities while behind the wheel. Pair these distractions with their driving inexperience and it's no wonder that one in four crash fatalities in the U.S. involves a 16- to 24- year-old.

Digital obstacles are only one category of distractions taking teens' eyes off of the road. As an auto insurance agent, parents often ask me how they can make their teen drivers safer. The answer: They can't do it alone. It takes an entire community - parents, teens, lawmakers and schools - to keep teen drivers safe on the road.

The most important group is parents. According to a survey of 5,600 students, conducted by The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm, parents influence teen driving behavior more than anyone else. Parents must demonstrate the safe driving behaviors they want their teens to develop. For instance, they shouldn't talk on their cell phones while driving if they don't want their teens to exhibit the same behavior. There are plenty of 'teachable' moments, starting as early as age 13, when kids are old enough to sit in the front seat.

Government leaders must implement stronger state graduated driver licensing laws for teens. An ideal law restricts nighttime driving, passengers, and cell phone use. Fortunately, Oregon already has a strong graduated driver licensing law. But we all need to help enforce it.

Schools need teen peer-to-peer programs that help address the issue of teen driver safety. There are several funding opportunities for schools to implement these proven programs.

Oct. 14 to 21 is the first National Teen Driver Safety Week. As a member of this driving community, I encourage everyone to use this week as a time to educate, supervise and enforce teen driver safety. Helping teens become safer drivers helps keep the roads safer for all of us.

Teresa Barnard, Lake Oswego, is a local State Farm agent.