There are 32 families that are still mourning the loss of a child after last year’s Teen-Driver related fatalities in Nevada. According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) put out by the National Highway Safety Administration, at least 62% of all teen related crashes last year involved aggressive driving; including speeding and erratic driving. Intoxication was a large factor in at least 41% of teen-drivers’ fatal accidents, along with other avoidable behaviors such as absence of restraints and distraction, acting as major contributors to loss of life.
These statistics are staggering to say the least. The biggest question is how can we reduce these numbers and educate young drivers to be responsible while behind the wheel of a car?
Recently I was privileged to observe a class directed at young, inexperienced drivers, sponsored by the Nevada Department of Public Safety, along with the Nevada Highway Patrol. The attendees did not sign up in excitement for these classes, instead they were sentenced by a Judge to attend, after receiving a citation for many of the same reasons Nevada lost 32 teens in 2014.
This class was held at the local Juvenile Hall after school hours so I decided to arrive early in order to observe those who might be attending as they found their way into the parking lot for the session. I sat quietly in my vehicle as cars with young drivers began to enter, some driving cautiously, others zipping through the lot looking for a spot. A few arrived early, some arrived right on time. I noticed that a few students were prepared with writing materials, others just seemed as if they wished it was already over.
I exited my vehicle once it appeared no others were arriving. I entered the building, and like any court system facility, was searched, with my items removed to be scanned prior to entering. I was relieved that the bells and whistles stayed silent as I went through the detector. You just never know what might set off that sensitive machine.
I was escorted to the classroom and I noticed that all the attendees were placed in a holding area so roll call could be taken. After all, this is a court ordered class as part of their sentencing.
I was greeted by Scott Swain, the Law Enforcement Liaison for the Nevada Department of Public Safety and introduced myself. Since I was a guest and observer, I sat in the back of the room so as not to be a distraction to the rest of the class.
The students began to arrive as a group and were asked to sit anywhere. In total there were 19 attending; 10 boys and 9 girls. Prior to the start of the presentation, each student was instructed to take a pre-test, consisting of 10 questions. Among the questions were: is it legal to drive 5 miles over the posted speed limit? What is Offensive Driving? When can you drive in the left lane? And what is the safe following distance, just to list a few.
The objective of this class/sentencing was the hope of changing the way teen drivers drive, since 62% of them are causing crash related accidents. The class was 3 hours long and covered all driver related situations, laws, and many of the things these teen drivers aren’t learning prior to getting their driver’s license. These students learned that as a driver, no matter the age, you will be tried as an adult in any crash related accident. The audio visual was extremely graphic and at times humor was tossed in to help lighten the seriousness of the content.
Students were asked if they felt they had bad parent drivers who taught them to drive? 4 raised their hands. They were asked if they ever took a Driver’s Education class? Unbelievably, 100% of the students acknowledged that they had never taken Driver’s Ed. Let’s think about this for a moment. If you want to be good in sports, do you start out being great? No, it takes work and practice. How about wanting to be CEO of a company? No, it takes hard work and dedication, so why do we give licenses to 16 year olds and tell them they are now good drivers? We allow them to use a car that can potentially become a weapon if used irresponsibly.
Finally, there was a video of young girls laughing and texting with the driver being distracted by her friends. All of a sudden the vehicle veers into oncoming traffic, hitting a car head on, it’s then hit by another vehicle, and unable to stop for the accident. The outcome? 3 of the 4 girls die, while their friend watches as she is trapped inside the car. In the other vehicle was a family of 5: mom and dad were killed, an infant dies, and the 5 year old in the back seat wants to know why daddy is not answering her.
As I watched the students taking in this tragedy as it unfolded, the room became silent. Some seemed shaken by the situation and others looked as if they felt this wasn’t real. In fact, this video was taken from vehicle cams installed by insurance companies to help lower costs to drivers in another country due to so many accidents. The cameras help to shed a better light on who actually is at fault, if and when it went to trial. In this case, a distracted teen took the lives of many innocent people and pretty much wiped out an entire family.
After the class came to an end, I was able to speak to one young student. He informed me that he is a second offender to this class. I wanted to know if he has learned anything after being here twice. He assured me he did, so let’s hope that he did.
If you have a young driver in your household, make sure they are driving responsibly; no parent wants to ever receive that knock on the door. Drive Safe.
For more information about this program and others, go to www.stayundead.com