STATEMENT OF Sherry Chapman, Mourning Parents Act (!MPACT) On the Introduction of the Safe Teen And Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act (H.R. 1895) United States Capitol, Washington, D.C. April 23, 2009 Good morning. I am Sherry Chapman, from Coventry, Connecticut. Six years ago last December, my son Ryan was killed when the car in which he was riding as a passenger smashed into several parked vehicles along a winding country road. The teen driver was arrested and convicted for manslaughter, DUI and multiple other charges. I cannot begin to express to you the immensity of the loss, the weight of the grief. As a result of this horrific event, I along with the parents of two other teens killed in separate car crashes within 10 days of Ryan’s death formed the nonprofit organization, Mourning Parents Act (!MPACT). The mission of !MPACT is to eliminate tragedies caused by inexperienced drivers through awareness, education and legislation. We have developed a very powerful teen driving safety presentation that we offer at no charge. We have reached tens of thousands of teens in the 6 years we have been active, and based on the testimonials we have received, we know we positively influence teen driving and riding behavior. Out of this tragedy, I have also become a strong believer in the power of public policy change so that others will not have to suffer the untold grief of losing a child – an unspeakable tragedy that Tom Didone and I both share. Since Ryan’s death I have been working tirelessly in my own state of Connecticut for stronger laws and better programs to address this teenage public health epidemic. I know it has made a difference. In 2007, the state of Connecticut convened a teen driving task force, on which I serve, that has recommended some necessary and vigorous changes in our state’s graduated driver licensing laws and general teen driving program, and we are moving forward aggressively on all fronts. Looking at the patchwork quilt of laws for teen driving throughout the nation, however, compels me to recommend that it is time for federal legislation to urge and accelerate states to pass strong, uniform laws. It doesn’t make any sense at all to have different teen driving laws in every state. The number of teen fatalities, as well as other deaths resulting from crashes involving teen drivers, is over 7,500 people every year in this country. One death is too many, but when there are thousands of families, year in and year out, going through what my family has suffered, and will suffer, it’s time to do whatever we can to reverse the trend. In the 1980s states across the country had different minimum drinking ages for young people resulting in what we called “blood borders”. High school students would drive to states that allowed them to drink and would drive home drunk, frequently ending up in a morgue instead of their beds. Congress stepped in to pass the National Minimum 21 Drinking Age in 1984 requiring every state to enact a 21 drinking age or be penalized federal-aid highway funds. Every state acted within 3 years and that law alone has saved over 10,000 young lives. In 1995, Congress stepped in again to pass a zero tolerance blood alcohol concentration law (BAC) closing a dangerous loophole in the drinking age law that allowed teen drivers to drink and drive and only be arrested if they exceeded the adult BAC level. Again, within 3 years every state had this lifesaving law. It is time for every state to protect every teen driver no matter where he or she lives. A federal law is needed to encourage states to adopt the best and strongest laws to protect our teens. That is why I support H.R. 1895, the STANDUP Act, a congressional action that will lead to state adoption of these important laws. My family and I will be working with the Saferoads4teens Coalition and others to see this national law enacted. Thank you for this opportunity to speak today and convey my support for upgrading teen driving laws and programs.
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