NORWALK, Conn. – The rollout of a new program to keep teenage drivers safe has been hampered by the specifications in state law.
Melissa Rojo, a 2012 Norwalk High School graduate, says she has signed up 60 teenagers to serve as drivers in a SafeRides program for some 400 teenagers who have signed up to get the free rides on Saturday nights. But the 16- and 17-year-old drivers are not qualified for an exemption from age restrictions provided by section 14-36g(6)(b) of the Connecticut General statutes.
The 2011 state law says that the young drivers must be signed up in a SafeRides program sponsored by the American Red Cross, the Boy Scouts of America or other national public service organization. But Rojo has lined up the South Norwalk Community Center (SoNoCC) as her sponsor.
Rojo was informed by Norwalk Police Lt. Paul Resnick on Feb. 28 that only 18-year-old drivers could offer rides to the teenagers enrolled in the local program.
“So much energy and attention, then suddenly this little glitch,” SoNoCC Deputy Director Pat Ferrandino said.
Rojo said 10 teenagers got rides through the program last Saturday, the first day for SafeRides. Drivers hung out at SoNoCC until 2 a.m. watching movies, Ferrandino said.
Ferrandino sent a letter Wednesday to state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk).
“SoNoCC, after careful due diligence by our Commercial Insurance Agent, Shoff Darby, obtained sufficient insurance coverage to support the SafeRides Norwalk program,” he wrote. “This insurance mirrors coverage that other SafeRides programs have obtained through their Boy Scouts of America sponsors. The difference is, Boy Scouts of America charges each and every volunteer a $25 premium. SoNoCC has obtained proper blanket program insurance coverage for a total premium of less than $500. We also provide our facilities to SafeRides Norwalk free of charge.
“Limiting SafeRides sponsorship to only national public service organizations is unfair and creates an undue financial barrier to local SafeRides programs. SoNoCC kindly requests your help in remedying this dilemma,” he continued. “Time is of the essence, since we have only a limited and inadequate number of drivers over the age of 18 to satisfactorily accommodate both the current and the anticipated demand for this service.”
Duff had not replied as of 8 p.m. Thursday. On Wednesday evening, Duff told NancyOnNorwalk that he hadn’t seen the letter yet. He hadn’t replied to further inquiry as of 5 a.m. Friday.
Rojo, a Princeton University sophomore, said volunteers are working on the problem.
“I would be surprised if there wasn’t some sort of problem,” she said. “Obviously there’s a solution to everything. So I’m not too worried about it. We have a lot of support from the volunteers, too, so we’re finding ways around it so we can continue to provide a service to Norwalk.”
She thinks maybe her SafeRides program can connect with the Red Cross, she said.
“We’re looking at the finances,” she said. “… I should think that hopefully next week (we’ll have it worked out).”
She later sent an email, asking to include a “special thanks to the Brien McMahon High School, Norwalk High School, and the Matthew Gaffney Foundation for providing us with such great kids and volunteers.”
There is a fundraiser from 2:30 to 10 p.m. Friday at Peach Wave, located at 235 Main St.
She said she is not from South Norwalk. Her father has friends on the SoNoCC board, she said.
“We were looking for a place to sponsor us and give us a location, which the South Norwalk Community Center so kindly did,” she said. “They were really, really enthusiastic about the idea and it fit in well with their program. … It’s definitely something that needed to happen in Norwalk. I wish we had it when I was in high school. It really helps in preventing injuries because drunk driving is a national problem. I’m glad we have parent support and student support. I’m glad the students are starting to understand the repercussions.”
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