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Event drives teens to foster street sense

I was driving north on Martin Luther King Boulevard when I looked in the rearview mirror to see three teenage girls in a silver Mercedes sedan motoring behind me.

The driver was talking on a cell phone and two other passengers were talking or singing, having what seemed to be a good time.

The driver seemed to handle the vehicle with care; she wasn’t speeding or tailgating or weaving in and out of traffic.

Still, this seemed like the perfect recipe for a crash.

Considering my personal desire never to experience a crash again, I switched lanes and let the Mercedes glide by.

But I wondered: Was my perception of the teen driver and her friends unfair?

The numbers on teen driving indicate I made the right choice.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that teens are four times more likely to crash their vehicles than older motorists.

According to a 2008 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, 80 percent of all crashes involved inattention by the driver within three seconds of the crash. The study suggests that dialing a phone, reading, or applying makeup increases the chance of a crash by three times; reaching to move an object while driving increases the odds ninefold.

In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States.

More than 5,000 teenagers, a breakdown of about 14 a day, were killed in crashes in 2006, according to the insurance institute. Two-thirds of those killed are males.

On top of that, nearly 300,000 teens were injured in crashes the same year, the institute reported.

The good news is that on Friday I met teens who want to do something to change that.

About 100 high school student leaders from Cheyenne, Liberty, Las Vegas, Mojave and Valley high schools participated in a summit at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, aimed at preventing teen fatalities.

The Allstate Foundation sponsored “Keep the Drive Las Vegas,” meant to empower teens to educate their peers on the dangers of driving.

At the summit, I was impressed by the enthusiasm (and the screaming ability) these students showed.

I also was surprised by how many of the teens had already experienced a crash, most of them as passengers in their parents’ vehicles.

Meaghan Hagensick, who led the summit, said students are expected to go back to their respective high schools and, through creative grass-roots efforts, encourage safe driving.

For instance, Valley students planned on blocking off 14 parking spaces in the school’s parking lot to signify the average number of teen deaths daily.

Hagensick said, “When you break it down like that, it’s a basketball team or a student council. It gives them (teens) perspective.”

She added many teenagers have a feeling of invincibility, which leads to aggressive and unsafe driving behavior.

Having them spread the word to their peers is more effective than adults “talking at” them, she said.

The students brainstormed and learned how best to communicate the safe driving message at the summit.

Valley High School students wrote a song to the tune of Jingle Bells to spread the word at a rally. Las Vegas High School students performed a stomp routine with an accompanying rap.

Liberty student Alexa told me the summit gave her the confidence to confront some of her friends who like to speed. “I’m going to get them to stop being dumb,” she told me.

In the coming months, Alexa and the other students are expected to run programs and start conversations with their classmates about safe driving.

The Allstate Foundation will provide grant money for these programs and is sponsoring a national competition to see which high school most creatively communicates the safe driving message.

The number of teen fatalities from motor vehicle crashes has been dropping in recent years, the average was once 16 fatalities a day. Programs such as the one offered on Friday are probably playing a large part in the decrease.

And for that these students deserve our support and encouragement.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call the Road Warrior at 387-2904, or e-mail him at roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com or fmccabe@reviewjournal.com. Please include your phone number.

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