Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers.

Would the casualty count drop if parents were more in the know when their kids are in the process of getting their driver's license?

A free program offered to schools throughout New Jersey looks to reduce teen crash risks through increased parental involvement.

"For parents who are not familiar with the Graduated Driver Licensing, they don't realize that the law itself has some really life-saving components to it," said Violet Marrero, consumer safety director for New Jersey Manufacturers.

As a public service, the Mercer County-based insurer launched its Share the Keys program in 2013. Still going strong, Share the Keys brings parents and teens together in one room for a 60- to 90-minute interactive orientation program.

"It's based on research that shows that parents can be successful in reducing their teen's risk in half when they get involved," Marrero said.

The program was originally developed by the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety and Kean University. The state was unable to sustain the program due to a lack of resources; NJM took it on.

John Hardiman, NJM's public affairs director, said Share the Keys has reached more than 150,000 students — mostly in New Jersey. Roughly 50 schools are active with the program.

"You're asked during the presentation to actually sign a contract," said Hardiman, who attended a presentation with his 16-year-old son. "The contract is between parent and child, and that really makes it real."

Most schools offer Share the Keys as a voluntary program, Marrero said. But some tie it to parking privileges on campus.

In 2017, according to State Police data, 31 drivers and passengers under the age of 21 were victims of motor vehicle crashes in New Jersey. "Motor vehicle fatality" represents over one-third of all teen deaths nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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