Secretary of state emphasizes youth driver safety, hopes for improvements

During a snow storm on Jan. 12, 2012, a car blurs past the adorned memorial for two Hermon High School students who died at this Irish Road site in Carmel on Nov. 8, 2011. James McPhearson, 16, of Levant and Richard Picken Jr., 14, of Carmel were killed instantly in the crash.
During a snow storm on Jan. 12, 2012, a car blurs past the adorned memorial for two Hermon High School students who died at this Irish Road site in Carmel on Nov. 8, 2011. James McPhearson, 16, of Levant and Richard Picken Jr., 14, of Carmel were killed instantly in the crash. Buy Photo
Posted Jan. 15, 2012, at 3:58 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s secretary of state will bring the latest “Conversation with the Communities,” discussion about youth driver safety to Bangor this week.

The third in a series of events will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17 at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles office in the Airport Mall on Union Street.

Events also will be held Wednesday in Caribou and Thursday in Calais. Those who cannot attend can participate by live online streaming at www.maine.gov/sos.

Secretary of State Charlie Summers said the goal of these conversations is to get people thinking about ways to improve the safety of young drivers, a concern that has made headlines recently for the wrong reasons.

Two teenagers from Southern Maine died in a crash earlier this month. Logan Dam, 19, and Rebecca Mason, 16, both of West Paris, had attended a party shortly before the accident. Police later said alcohol and text messaging by the driver were factors in the crash.

Other recent accidents have claimed the lives of young drivers and passengers, including one in Freedom Township and another in Biddeford this month and a crash last November in Carmel that left two Hermon High School students dead.

Shortly after the West Paris accident, Secretary Summers and Gov. Paul LePage proclaimed January 2012 as “Young Driver Safety Awareness Month,” and announced the “Conversations with the Communities” initiative.

“It is with great sorrow that I express my condolences to the families and friends of the teenagers who were lost in motor vehicle accidents this past weekend throughout the state of Maine,” the governor said in a statement. “I applaud the secretary of state’s efforts to engage parents, educators, students, and community members all across the state about how to better educate our youth on safe driving techniques to avoid these tragedies in the future.”

In an interview on Friday, Summers said the recent horrible events certainly heightened awareness of youth driver safety. He said one of the biggest things the state can do is look at how young drivers can be better educated and better prepared when the get behind the wheel.

Summers said Maine’s driver’s education curriculum, which has not been updated since 1998, is a good place to start.

Once the community conversations are complete, Summers plans to convene a technical review panel to look at potential changes to the curriculum. One change, he said, could include increasing the number of driving hours needed before a teen can take their driver’s license exam. Another could be leveraging federal grants to purchase driving simulators as a way to supplement on-the-road training.

Sarah Beth Campisi, a 15-year-old high school student from Saco, will serve on the technical review panel. Campisi’s mother worked for Summers during his unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. House in 2008.

Campisi just finished driver’s education and Summers thought she would bring a much-needed youth perspective.

“I hope that I can get across the attitude that teenagers have: A lot of them don’t take it seriously,” the Thornton Academy sophomore said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “Some people need to see that driving is a privilege.”

Campisi said texting and distracted driving in general are huge problems she sees every day when she leaves school.

Summers said he has the authority to make some changes himself but others might require legislation. He expected that the technical review panel would present its findings to the Legislature’s Transportation Committee sometime during the current session.

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