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Keeping Teens Safe Behind the Wheel

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In case you missed it, last week was the inaugural National Teen Driver Safety Week, and if anyone needed an explanation of why such a commemorative event was initiated, a random look at news clips says it all.

During the same seven-day stretch: several Sacramento, Calif.-area students died in car crashes; teenage drivers in Florida and New Jersey were charged with vehicular manslaughter and homicide, respectively, for the deaths of their friends in crashes earlier this year; and, many teens could be seen car surfing in video clips on the social networking site MySpace.com.

Car crashes cause more deaths among teens than disease or other accidents. And the traditional distractions--radios and passengers--and new ones like cell phones and text messaging, are often catalysts.

Teenagers will do almost anything to convince their parents they are ready for a drivers' license, but it has become more of a rite of passage once they hit sweet 16, than an earned responsibility. Groups advocating driver safety, grieving parents and friends, and some state legislators are working to motivate students to be better drivers through tougher laws, public awareness campaigns, improved educational programs, and even by linking driving privileges to academic performance.

All too often, however, it takes a tragedy before many teens understand the dangers of driving.

What roles can or should schools play in teaching teens about driver safety?

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Every morning my significant other gets the traffic fatality reports from the entire state of North Carolina on his desk. Teen traffic fatalities are a frequent topic of dinner table conversation.
Schools should take a more active role in the driving curriculum. Currently in many states, the curriculum is geared to pass the state driving test. Teens need more information about defensive driving techniques and real-world experience in how crashes happen. Such as the physics of excessive speed combined with unexpected variables like someone running a stoplight or a deer crossing the road.

The North Carolina Governors Highway Safety Program sponsors an RU Buckled campaign, enrolled schools tie parking privileges to seat belt compliance. If a student is caught without a buckled seat belt they lose parking privilege. GHSP also has drunk driving simulators that show students how impaired one really is when driving under the influence. They also have a seat belt convincer that demonstrates the forces involved in a low-speed crash.

Lastly, we all need to stop calling car crashes accidents. Almost all car crashes are caused by some type of human error. The word “accident” implies that no one is at fault.

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