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Secretary of State Ruth Johnson unveils plan to help at-risk teens become better drivers

JANUARY 13, 2014Image: Driver Education

Partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters aimed
at enhancing driving skills and saving lives

LANSING, Mich. – Secretary of State Ruth Johnson today unveiled a pilot program with Big Brothers Big Sisters to help at-risk teens gain practical driving experience and, in doing so, make roads safer for all drivers.

"Young drivers, especially between the ages of 16 and 17, are more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than other age groups," Johnson said. "This is primarily due to their age and inexperience behind the wheel. Supervised practice is extremely important to develop the skills and judgment to drive safely and is required for the Level 1 Graduated Driver License.

"But if a teen doesn't have access to a vehicle or if a parent or guardian isn't readily available, what is the answer? That's when the partnership between the Secretary of State and Big Brothers Big Sisters can help."

Johnson made her announcement during a news conference at the Marshall Street Armory, home of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Michigan Capital Region office in Lansing, with Phillip Knight, executive director, BBBSMCR, and Big Brothers Graham Filler from St. Johns and Aaron Fox from Portland.

Vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for young people in America, claiming about 3,000 lives annually, or eight lives per day. In 2012, 10 percent of drivers in Michigan involved in fatal crashes were under the age of 21.

Coaching a teen driver is an important part of driver education. With a Level 1 license or learner's permit, young drivers must log a minimum of 50 hours of supervised driving with a parent, guardian or designated adult age 21 or older. Under the pilot program, BBBS volunteers or "Bigs" are encouraged to serve as the driving coach and role model for their Little Brother or Sister. The Secretary of State provides materials, including access to a free smartphone app that helps track hours behind the wheel and offers coaching tips. No additional auto insurance is required when driving with a teen with a Level 1 license. Helping teens obtain the training and practice they need to learn how to drive safely and responsibly reduces the crash risk and will save lives.

"Big Brothers Big Sisters is about building relationships between adults and young people that change lives," Knight said. "We are pleased to work with Secretary of State Ruth Johnson in developing a program with our mentors to help young drivers become better drivers. Driving is an important step towards greater self-reliance in today's society. Lack of transportation can hamper young people's efforts to find employment, housing and educational opportunities."

Michigan's Graduated Driver Licensing program introduces driving concepts gradually, allowing young drivers to master certain skills before increasing their driving privileges with the GDL 2 and 3 licenses. Teens are not required to advance to the next license level. A teen who feels hesitant may continue driving with a GDL Level 1 license until age 18.

Approximately 100,000 Level 1 licenses were issued in 2013.

"You never forget who taught you to drive," said Fox, who is a BBBS board member and was joined by his Little Brother, Michael Olivas, at the news conference. "As a Big Brother and a driving coach, I can make a difference for a teen driver that will affect their whole life. Good driving habits can save lives."

Added Johnson, "By ensuring that young teens get the practice they need, the partnership will help reduce the chances of their involvement in a crash."

Big Brothers Big Sisters has been impacting the lives of children for more than 100 years. Two charities, the Big Brothers Association and the Catholic Big Sisters (later Big Sisters International) founded in the early 1900s merged in 1977 to become Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. For more information visit

Information about the Graduated Driver License program, teen driving and coaching is available at General information about Secretary of State programs and services is at Sign up for official Secretary of State Twitter feeds at and Facebook updates at
Customers also may call the Department of State Information Center to speak to a customer service representative at 888-SOS-MICH (767-6424).


For media questions, please contact Gisgie Dávila Gendreau at 517-373-2520 or

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