With school days dwindling and young minds dreaming of graduation or summer vacation, PennDOT is reminding all young drivers to stay focused on the road and avoid distractions while behind the wheel.

"Driving is a huge responsibility that requires split-second decisions and a driver's full attention," said PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch. "Being distracted while driving, even for a second, is a potentially deadly proposition that endangers everyone on the road. To put it simply, put everything else aside and 'just drive.'"

While all drivers should avoid distractions, younger drivers' lack of experience behind the wheel can greatly increase the risk of a crash if they are distracted while driving. Over the past five years in Pennsylvania, there were nearly 4,000 crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers who were distracted, resulting in 18 deaths.

Distracted driving is any action that draws attention away from the safe operation of a vehicle. There are three types of driver distractions: visual, causing drivers to take their eyes off the road; manual, causing drivers to take their hands off the wheel; and cognitive, causing drivers to take their mind off the road.

One dangerous activity that involves all three types of distraction - texting - has been addressed through the state's new anti-texting law, which took effect in early March. The law prohibits text-based communication while driving and makes texting while driving a primary offense carrying a $50 fine. For more information on the law, visit www.dot.state.pa.us and choose "Anti-Texting Law."

According to a recent study of nationwide crash statistics by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 16- and 17-year old drivers are more likely to be killed in a crash when they have young passengers in their vehicle. Their risk of being involved in a crash increased by about 44 percent with one passenger under age 21 accompanying them. The risk doubled with two passengers under age 21, and quadrupled when three or more passengers under 21 were present.

As part of Pennsylvania's new Teen Driver Law, drivers younger than 18 may not transport more than one passenger who is under 18 and is not an immediate family member, unless the driver is accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. After six months the restrictions are modified to allow the under 18 driver to have up to three passengers under age 18 who are not immediate family members, but only if the driver has not been convicted of a driving violation and has not been responsible for a reportable crash. More information can be found by clicking on the "New Teen Driver Law 2011" button at www.dmv.state.pa.us.

Crash risks can be reduced through driving practice, limiting the number of passengers riding with a teen driver, parents setting a good example of safe driving, obeying all rules of the road and by exercising common sense.

May is National Youth Traffic Safety Month. For more information on young driver safety, visit PennDOT's highway safety website, www.JustDrivePA.org and select the Young Driver link under the Traffic Safety Information Center.

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Submitted by PennDOT