The California Highway Patrol, San Jose Police Department, San Jose Fire Department, the California Office of Traffic Safety, Impact Teen Drivers, and Regional Medical Center of San Jose, a level II Trauma Center, joined forces to recognize National Teen Driver Safety Week (NTDSW) and challenge each of us to stop the number one killer of teens in the U.S.— preventable car crashes. This event is timely because for the first time in over 50 years we have seen a 7% increase in U.S. roadway fatalities. The number of young drivers 16 to 20 years old involved in fatal crashes increased by 10 percent from 2014, and the number of people injured increased by 105,000—a statistically significant 4.5-percent increase from the prior year. “Our cars are being built with more and more safety features, our roadways are being designed to be safer, but the one thing missing is the commitment from all Californians to choosing a safe ride by buckling up, putting away the distractions, and choosing to follow the laws that are in place to keep us safe,” said Chief Paul Fontana of the CHP Golden Gate Division.

Today’s event had a strong focus on reminding parents that they are the number one influencer of their teens’ driving attitudes and behaviors. The importance of parents demonstrating proper seatbelt use “every ride every time,” and enforcing the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws, which are in place to make our roadways safer for all of us, were emphasized. Ultimately, these united powers noted the goal to create a safe driving culture free of distractions behind the wheel—whether as a passenger or a driver—and to empower people with the strategies that will help keep all of us safe on the roadways.

San Jose Fire Department Captain, Christopher Salcido, lost his teenage daughter in a 2015 distracted driving car crash. “My daughter Natalia’s death was 100% preventable. The kids in the car, the driver’s parents that allowed the GDL violation, and my family will forever live with the consequences. The California GDL laws can only work if we choose to follow them—not just the teens, but parents also.”

Nearly 4,000 teens die annually from car crashes—that is 11 teens dying every single day. Threefourths of these crashes don’t involve drugs and alcohol, meaning that the vast majority have to do with reckless and distracted driving. Today’s event was about empowering young people to make the good choices that will keep them safe behind the wheel.

“I see countless patients whose lives and families are forever changed as a result of motor vehicle collisions,” said Trauma Surgeon, Richard Kline, MD, Medical Director of Trauma Services at Regional Medical Center of San Jose. “It breaks all of our hearts to continually see teenagers who are killed or severely injured as a result of these very preventable tragedies.”

Creating a culture shift isn’t easy, but it can be done. Just as multiple groups came together to increase seatbelt use and decrease impaired driving, so too can we reduce distracted driving using a multifaceted approach. Dr. Kelly Browning, Executive Director of Impact Teen Drivers, asserts that, “It will take all of us—educators, law enforcement, parents, and communities—to make our roadways safer for you, me, and our children, but ultimately it comes down to choice.”

Young drivers just developing their driving habits are key to changing the driving culture to one that is safe. Parents are the number one influencer of teens’ driving attitudes and behaviors. California Office of Traffic Safety Director Rhonda Craft notes, “It is critical we stop trying to scare teens into making good decisions—we know this doesn’t work. It is time we focus in on evidence-based programs and strategies. We know what works—now we all have to commit to doing it.”

In addition to speakers, an interactive distracted driving course at the event allowed students and adults to experience the dangers of driving distracted firsthand.
This event championed teen safe driving through an exceptional and collaborative effort. Using a multifaceted approach combining quality education, role modeling, and enforcement, California continues to work toward ending preventable fatal teen car crashes.

The Regional Medical Center of San Jose activities were supported with funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the California Office of Traffic Safety. For more information about Impact Teen Drivers or to find out how you can become bring the evidence-based program “What Do You Consider Lethal?” to your community, please e-mail, contact your local CHP Area Office, or call 916-733-7432.

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