Keeping teen drivers safe


Happy New Year!

This time of year there’s a lot of talk about resolutions. Losing weight and exercising more are common goals, but how many of us have ever thought about resolving to be better drivers? Anyone? Well, that’s what I’d like to talk about. In particular, I’d like to address the idea of responsible driving and our youth.

It is absolutely devastating to hear news of a fatal crash, and unfortunately, our young population is especially vulnerable. To begin this article, I’m going to start with an excerpt from a letter written by a North Ridgeville, Ohio, police officer to the 18-year-old driver he stopped on State Route 10 in mid-December 2018.

“I don’t KNOW your parents, but I know them. I know that when you leave every day they say “Be careful. Drive safe.” Those aren’t just words. That is the very last act of them pleading with you to come home safe. When they get a knock on the door, it’s not “Good afternoon ma’am. Your 18-year-old son just had a massive heart attack. It’s “Can we sit down? Your son has been involved in a very serious crash. I’m so sorry. He’s died.” When you leave the house they know that, far and away, the best chance you have of dying that day is in that car. Sometimes you’re the innocent person hit by someone with no regard for anyone else and sometimes you’re the one with no regard for anyone else. Today you were the latter.”

That letter was written to a young man who received a speeding ticket. He may not feel like it, but he was one of the lucky ones.

According to a study by Mark Stibich, Ph.D. (updated Nov. 27, 2018), accidents are the leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds. The study goes on to say that accidents account for 41 percent of deaths among people in the 15 to 24 age group, and that motor vehicle accidents alone account for almost a quarter of all deaths of these young adults.

While I won’t quibble with the statistics of the study, I will quibble with the language. An accident is defined as an “unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury; an event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause.”

For the most part, when we use the word “accident,” we are really talking about crashes, because in most cases, the “unfortunate incident” does not happen by chance or without apparent or deliberate cause.

Speeding is not an accident. Texting is not an accident. Driving distracted, messing around with friends – these are not accidents. These are dangerous choices that can lead to severe, and in some cases, deadly consequences. That’s why law enforcement refers to these incidents as crashes.

If you have ever been the recipient of news that a classmate of your child has died, or been severely injured in a crash, you know the devastation those students feel. The death or injury of even one teen or young adult is one too many, and that is why my office has joined with Sheriff Russ Martin, The Ohio State Highway Patrol, The Delaware General Health District, SAFE Delaware County, and Byers Toyota to REDUCE OHIO CRASHES.

REDUCE OHIO CRASHES is an initiative to reduce teen crashes in Delaware County by engaging students and staff in our eight public high schools in a friendly competition centered around driver safety and education. The Ohio program is based on a Tennessee program that started in 2013. It combines innovative branding and basic marketing to create awareness around increased personal, roadway and traffic safety.

REDUCE OHIO CRASHES is an online portal that connects schools with resources pertinent to their area and population. There are activities, speakers, and access to programs, everything from posting “Buckle Up” signs in school parking lots to outreach through community events, and safety awareness days.

Through the use of teen crash data and research, REDUCE OHIO CRASHES can identify trends in order to provide relevant safety solutions. Students and groups who take part will earn award points, engaging in friendly competition with other schools. They’ll even be able to share pictures of activities and safety initiatives with each other via the portal and social media.

I’m so proud of our community for coming together in support of young drivers as they learn the ins and outs of roadway safety. Those lessons though, are not complete without parent input. I encourage parents to motivate their teen drivers to participate in this program, and remember, no matter your child’s age, you are a model for how they will conduct themselves behind the wheel.

Students – believe me when I say that every parent’s nightmare is that knock on the door from law enforcement. Please be safe. Take this program seriously. Take driving seriously. Your community needs you.

I invite you to join us as we kick off Reduce Ohio Crashes on Jan. 22 at Byers Toyota, 1599 Columbus Pike, Delaware. I’ll be there from 5-7 p.m. Stop by and help us reduce Ohio crashes.

By Carol O’Brien

Contributing Columnist

Carol O’Brien is Delaware County Prosecutor.

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