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Truckers get chance to snitch on unsafe drivers

TORONTO, Ont. - Truckers are about to put the shoe on the other foot and be enlisted to call in and complain about dangerous teen drivers.The soon-to-be-launched I Promise program incorporates a toll ...

TORONTO, Ont. – Truckers are about to put the shoe on the other foot and be enlisted to call in and complain about dangerous teen drivers.

The soon-to-be-launched I Promise program incorporates a toll free number, 877-282-9444, with a parent-teen contract to promote safe driving. The number is displayed on a rear window decal for other drivers to see. If a person sporting a decal is driving dangerously truckers are asked to call the number and lodge a complaint.

“We rely on parents as role models and we also say you have to make a public commitment to driving safely,” says Gary Direnfeld, executive director of the I Promise program. “By placing the rear window decal up it signals to all drivers that you are available for feedback.”

Once a call goes through to the call centre the information on what happened is taken and passed on to the family of the offending teen, where it can be dealt with as a family issue.

The number is not linked to the police or insurance companies. The idea is to curb dangerous driving actions before they need to involve those types of authorities.

According to Direnfeld, the police he’s spoken to love the system. Giving parents more authority over their children will only make for safer highways, the police tell him.

“When I talk to parents they love it. They want it yesterday,” he says. “Anything they can do to promote their child’s safety they’re all for.”

The idea for I Promise came to Direnfeld while commuting from Hamilton, Ont. to Toronto as he does daily. He was almost run off the road by a young teenager and, after noticing a number to report the driving of a trucker on the back of a truck he was following, he wished there was some way to report the teen who cut him off.

From there Direnfeld researched injury prevention methods for new teen drivers. He was disappointed to find only a single parent-teen contract and one other vehicle monitoring service.

“I thought if we were to find a way to combine the best of both we might have something,” he says.

After the first model of the project was completed in June 2000 Direnfeld scoured the Internet looking for organizations whose mandate includes an interest in safe driving, teens and injury prevention. He had them review the program and provide feedback. Direnfeld and his partner Jan Lowther made adjustments to the program.

Since then it has received over 60 letters of support from various organizations – one of the first came from the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA).

It states, “(The) I Promise program seems to offer a unique yet simple approach that involves parents and the community working in cooperation with teenage drivers to create more responsible road users.”

Direnfeld says the OTA has a chance to help foster better driving habits for motorists sharing the road with big rigs.

“New drivers don’t fully understand or have the experience sharing the roads with truck drivers and the knowledge that truckers require a much longer driving period and don’t have the same maneuverability as a car,” he says. “Truckers being on the road as much as they are, probably see more hazardous driving than anyone and they would be in a good position to report when appropriate.”

One of the first people to jump on board this program is George Cooke, president of the Dominion of Canada insurance company. His company has committed to distributing the program to its policyholders.

“If you can measure (how teens are driving) then all of a sudden that teen becomes accountable for what they’re doing,” says Cooke. “If you don’t measure it, then you are setting yourself up.”

Cooke is also chairman of the Insurance Bureau of Canada and Direnfeld says he’s trying to influence his colleagues at the executive level to distribute the product, as well – a decision that will be made in the next few months.

“How many trailers have jack-knifed because they’re trying to avoid poor drivers?” asks Direnfeld. “(Having) the 1-800 number on the back, they’re conscious of it and it modifies their driving behavior.”

To keep track of the success rate of the program, which is targeted for launch in January 2002, the call centre will monitor the number of calls. Direnfeld has also established relationships with both the Universities of Ottawa and Harvard, in order to conduct research on an on-going basis. Partnerships have also been made with the Plan-it-safe program of the children’s hospital of Eastern Ontario which has approved funding by the Ontario Neurotrama Foundation to put on an evaluation study of the I Promise program. n

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