For what two local groups say might be the first time anywhere in the country, teenagers in New Jersey are getting a chance to evaluate their driving aptitude at a doctor's office, during routine physicals.

The virtual driving assessment system is being made possible by a $4 million grant from NJM Insurance Group to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Care Network locations that offer primary pediatric care.

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So far the only New Jersey office equipped with the system is in Somers Point, but the other Garden State destinations within the Care Network — Cape May, Gibbsboro, Mount Laurel, Smithville, and Salem Road in Burlington Township — should be getting it within the next three years.

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Dr. Flaura Winston, founder and scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP, developed the program with the input and assistance of driving instructors, parents, and teens themselves, based on national data that showed motor vehicle fatalities among young drivers are most common in the months directly following them getting their licenses.

"We decided that we should make this part of primary care," Winston said. "This should be part of an adolescent visit, just like you might be thinking about vaccines and measuring a child's weight."

Children age 15 and up will be eligible to take the completely self-guided assessment, which takes about 15 minutes and provides feedback on what the teen did well, what they need to work on, and how they can improve their performance.

"Our goal is really to make our roads safer for our policyholders," Violet Marrero, NJM consumer safety director, said, "and helping their young drivers build those skills and equipping them with the information that they need, we're making the road safer for everyone."

One thing the assessment does is test young drivers' knowledge and mastery of what most adults would call common driving situations.

Marrero said outside the doctor's office, parents can and should do their part to reinforce these everyday scenarios, and limit passenger privileges beyond even what New Jersey's graduated driver license parameters allow.

"Whether or not they're able to make a safe left turn, you don't know that until you're sitting next to them, gripping for your life sometimes," she said. "But the point is, parents are incredibly powerful influencers over their teen drivers' safety."

For more information and resources, visit CHOP's Teen Driver Source page, NJM's "Share the Keys" initiative, or email cndriving@chop.edu.

"We really do not want to see one more teen die in a car crash, or have a serious injury, or kill someone else in a car crash, and so the sooner that we can make a difference, the better," Winston said.

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