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Summer months = teen crashes, fatalities

Thursday, August 18, 2011 @ 05:08 PM
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Teen related auto injuries are a big focus for California traffic safety, and here in Orange County we have our fair share of them.  Our office encourages parents to discuss the dangers of driving with their children. There are also some very good courses out there to help educate young drivers.  Many auto insurance carriers also give discounts for courses such as the teenSMART or teensurance. Saving money on your auto insurance is not the main reason that young drivers should take the course though, safety is.

This article below from the Orange County Register has some other great information for parents and young drivers.

 

 

By ERIKA I. RITCHIE AND ALEJANDRA MOLINA / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

TRABUCO CANYON – Valerie Beechler still can’t get the cries for help out of her mind.

On a quiet July night around 1 a.m. the 43-year-old mother first heard the swerve of screeching tires then saw the lights flash across her ceiling twice – the reflection of a car’s headlight as it rolled over and over. Then, she heard the sound of steel colliding with an electrical pole and everything turned dark. Power had been knocked out in the neighborhood.

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Officer Eric Barnard of the California Highway Patrol begins his Start Smart presentation for teenagers gathered in Rancho Santa Margarita. The goal of the program is to reduce the number of teen-related injuries and deaths due to collisions.
PAUL RODRIGUEZ, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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“Out of the dead silence I heard this guy screaming, ‘Help me, will somebody please help me,’” Beechler recalled. “He had an incredible fear and desperation in his voice. He kept calling out for help screaming that ‘his friend was still trapped in the car.’”

She would learn the driver – a 17-year-old Lake Forest teen rescued from the gnarled mass by 15 firefighters and the Jaws of Life — would eventually lie in a coma following the crash where his 2007 Honda smashed and bent around the electrical pole. His passenger, also a 17-year-old Lake Forest teen, suffered minor injuries.

Summer is the deadliest time of year for teen drivers and their passengers with seven of the top 10 deadliest days of the year occurring between the Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays, according to an analysis of crash data completed by AAA.

Police and transportation officials say rural, winding roads are go-to spots for teens using cars for entertainment and thrills. Officials say teen driving almost doubles during June, July and August when school vacations and relaxed curfews combine to create an often- deadly combination.

LURING ROADS

Live Oak Canyon Road, better fit for a leisurely drive, is a tempting setting for exhibitions of speed. The 6-mile road connecting Lake Forest to Rancho Santa Margarita, Dove Canyon and Coto De Caza has become a place for drivers – many excitement seekers and teens – to test the limits of their cars.

As the summer driving months get underway, CHP Officer Chris Goodwin and partner Officer Eric Barnard scour social networking sites advertising race challenges on Live Oak and surrounding rural roads. YouTube videos have popularized Live Oak attracting drivers from across Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Los Angeles counties.

“The two-lane road attracts teens. It makes them feel like it’s exciting and challenging to drive at high rates of speed,” Goodwin said.

Crash investigations show all of the 24 teens killed on that road between 2005 and 2010 were speeding over the posted speed limit of 35 miles-per-hour. This year, there have been 19 crashes on Live Oak Canyon Road, more than half involving drivers aged 15 – 22 years old.

“There’s a spike in the summertime because there are more kids driving,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Wayne Howard. “They tend to go there and out-drive their abilities. They are low-performance drivers, driving high-performance cars.”

According to AAA, more than 7,300 teen drivers nationwide and passengers ages 13-19 died in traffic crashes between the Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays from 2005-2009.

An average of 422 teens die in traffic crashes during each of the deadly summer months as compared to a monthly average of 363 teen deaths during the non-summer months.

“Life feels more care-free when school’s out and teens have more opportunities to drive or ride in cars late at night with other teens — a deadly mix,” said Kathleen Marvaso, vice president of public affairs for AAA.

Nationwide, car accidents remain the leading cause of death for teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2009, about 3,000 teens ages 15 -19 were killed in car accidents and an additional 350,000 were injured.

STRONGER PROGRAMS, ENFORCEMENT

When teen crashes on Live Oak Canyon Road spiked to 27 in 2006 and emergency personnel responded to 60 crashes, CHP cranked up enforcement. More patrols were added and teams deployed with radar guns to nab speeders. Since 2006, teen fatalities declined significantly to one in 2010.

Across all south county cities, from Lake Forest to San Clemente the number of fatal crashes involving teens also fell. In 2006, 343 teen drivers were involved in crashes and four died.

In 2010, there were 148 crashes and one driver died. Statewide the numbers are also decreasing, CHP data shows. In 2005, 155 teens died in crashes. In 2010, 70 died.

Goodwin said a statewide education emphasis by CHP and other law enforcement agencies has helped. For years, police placed mangled vehicles in front of schools during prom season to show the dangers of drinking and driving. Now, police, schools and organizations reach out year-round, addressing other topics such as distracted driving, using driving simulators and special programs.

Goodwin points to the “Every 15 Minute” program at high schools and to “Start Smart,” a program CHP started in 2007 to make recently-licensed drivers more aware of dangers and responsibility of driving. In five years more than 7,000 parents and teens attended the monthly courses offered by the CHP in South County. The program draws parents’ attention to roads such as Live Oak and discusses restrictions of the provisional driver’s license.

HOPEFUL FUTURE

For Beechler, the canyon resident, the sounds of emergency vehicles and the grinding whine of firefighters using the Jaws of Life to pull the 17-year-old driver from the car stays with her.

She is hopeful those sounds will end one day, leaving her with nights of chirping crickets and croaking frogs. So far, there have been four crashes at the location in the past year and a half — two on the same day, she said.

CHP officers say teens driving cars can be like 5,000 pound weapons with inexperienced pilots. Add to the mix their teen passengers – friends texting, reaching for a soda or adjusting radio buttons and you can have a disastrous result.

Beechler said she vows not to let her son, Trevor, 16, get his driving permit until he’s 18. She’s heard too many crashes and seen too many lives disrupted in the canyon.

“They should limit the activity there at night especially in the summer months. Between the drinking at Cook’s Corner and kids partying in the canyon, it’s really bad. I don’t think teenagers know or respect the power of a car. Driving is a huge responsibility and a privilege,” she said. “Every time we hear a siren or a cop shooting up the canyon, we say ‘I wonder who got hurt this time?’”

Contact the writer: 949-454-7307 or eritchie@ocregister.com or twitter.com/lagunaini

 

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