Cedar Creek High School students Francesca Ruth, 16, of Egg Harbor City, and Zach Zachowski, 17, of Mullica Township, introduce each other during a workshop for teen driver-safety 'ambassadors' on Monday at Northfield City Hall.

Staff photo by Michael Ein

NORTHFIELD - Where are you going? Who are you going with? When will you be back?

Those are the three questions traffic safety experts want parents to ask their teenagers before handing over the keys.

The message is part of an education campaign called "Share the Keys," which teaches parents to reinforce the law to teenage drivers. And while the program has been focused on educating adults, a group of high school students on Monday became the first teenagers to undergo the training and become "teen ambassadors."

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Fifteen teens from high schools throughout South Jersey, including Mainland Regional, Cedar Creek, Pleasantville and Cherry Hill, attended several hours of training lessons in the Northfield Municipal Court room.

Students watched videos of crashes that illustrated how fast an accident can occur and listened to retired police officers discuss how crashes can be avoided. The training included the nuances of the Graduated Driver License law as well as the reasons behind each rule. The teens then were given lessons on how to be better communicators.

Teresa Thomas, program manager for the South Jersey Traffic Safety Alliance, said the idea was for the students to become experts on the law and be trained to effectively communicate the information to their peers.

"So many times a teen will talk to a teen, but they won't talk to an adult or ask a question," she said. "We're trying to make it an atmosphere of compliance, where you're not a nerd or you're not weird if you want to follow the law."

Monday's training was another step in educating teen drivers in response to an August crash that killed four Mainland Regional High School football players. In September, Northfield police held a brainstorming session on ways the community and school could use the deadly crash as a teaching moment for students, Capt. Art Faden said. In November, the department partnered with radio and TV stations for a public service announcement campaign that featured students, school administrators and parents.

The focus of the Share the Keys workshop is to teach parents to have a conversation before their teenager takes the keys, said Violet Marrero, a special projects manager with the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety. The program lists three questions parents should ask before handing over the keys to their car: Where are you going, who are you going with and what time are you coming back?

All three questions, Marrero said, reinforce the rules of the Graduated Driver License, including enforcing passenger limits and curfews.

Marrero said the hope is that by giving the lessons to teens as a way for them to act as role models and as peer advisors, the message and reasoning of the law will be better understood and better followed by teen drivers.

"I'm not able to engage (teens) in the same way (as their peers), and the research really points to that, that their peers are the most influential people in their lives," Marrero said.

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