Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summer is the Most Dangerous Time for Teen Drivers

Summer's here and the time is right for putting away the phone while driving.

On the day she graduated from college in May 2008, Jacy Good's car was struck by a tractor-trailer that had swerved to avoid a young driver who had run a red light while talking on his cell phone. Her parents were killed. She barely survived and lives with serious injuries.

"This probably won't happen to you but it happens every day," Good told a group of teenagers gathered at Walt Whitman High School in suburban Washington, D.C., yesterday. "Watch out for each other."

The students were there to sign a "no texting" pledge and learn about a truck's "No Zone" at the event hosted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. A truck for the "No Zone" demonstration was provided by FedEx Ground.

"This is the time of year when fatal crash rates among teens almost doubles," FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro told the students.

The statistics are compelling: each day in May, June, July and August, an average of 16 teenagers die in a traffic accident, compared to 9 per day in other months, said Sandy Spavone, executive director of the National Organization for Youth Safety.

And teenagers are much more likely to be in a crash than adults are, said CVSA Executive Director Steve Keppler. More than a quarter of the people killed in crashes involving large trucks and buses are between 16 and 25 years old, he said.

"We want to get these kids into the right (driving) habits right out of the gate," Keppler said.

CVSA has put together a truck education program for teenage drivers. The Teens & Trucks curriculum covers such basics as the differences in handling characteristics between trucks and cars, and how to drive in the vicinity of a truck.

Few high-school driver education programs have a truck component, so CVSA and its partners in this effort, the Arizona Trucking Association, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and American Trucking Associations, have disseminated the curriculum to about 500,000 students in 47 states and 8 Canadian provinces, Keppler said.

The program, whose goal is 1 million students, is funded in part by an $85,000 grant from FMCSA.

After the students were given a "No-Zone" demonstration by Maryland State Police First Sgt. Robert Mondor, they lined up to sign the pledge that they would not text while driving.

"Life is all about decisions, choices and consequences," Ferro told them. "And every trip you take in a vehicle matters and requires sound judgment and your full attention. In a split second your life could be negatively impacted forever."

The message was made immediate by Jacy Good, and by Laurie Kelly of Takoma Park, Maryland.

Kelly, whose 23-year-old son was killed in a distracted driving crash in May 2010, told the students that everything they know can change in an instant. "Being over-confident means that you are unsafe," she said.

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