The other night I watched the T.V. news, horrified as a father of a teenage driver expressed his grief over the loss of his daughter. I really tried, but I couldn’t bear to imagine the pain and grief a parent would suffer if they lost their son or daughter to a traffic collision.
On the morning of Friday, January 10, 17-year-old Kaitlyn Benson died in a horrific car crash near the Port of Oakland. Kaitlyn was a junior at Oak Grove High School in San Jose.
The police said the car Kaitlyn was driving left the road and hit a pole. The crash killed Kaitlyn and significantly injured a 17-year-old passenger. Police said that speed was the cause of the accident, and the road where the crash occurred was a spot known for street racing.
Kaitlyn’s father Michael Benson said, “We’re grieving the loss of our 17-year-old daughter who we’re never going to see again. And nobody, nobody, should have their 17-year-old daughter die in a car wreck under any circumstances, but especially racing in a car or driving fast and doing things at night when they should be at home.”
The Most Dangerous of Times
On their website (www.nsc.org), the National Safety Council (NSC) says that teenage driving is one of the most dangerous times of your teen's life.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S. In fact, more teens die in car crashes than from suicides and homicides combined. Fortunately, teen crashes are preventable, and parents can play a significant role in making these crashes a thing of the past.
Here are several facts many parents don't know about teen driving:
- The most dangerous time of a teen driver's life is the first 12 months of independent licensure.
- A teen driver's crash risk is three times that of more experienced drivers.
- Teens crash most often because they are inexperience, not necessarily because they take more risks than older drivers.
- Three or more teen passengers in a car quadruples a teen driver's crash risk.
- Most fatal nighttime crashes involving teen drivers occur before midnight.
- More than half of teens killed in car crashes were not wearing a seat belt.
- Most states’ teen driving laws and restrictions do not adequately protect teens from common crash risks.
- Teens really do learn to drive from watching their parents. A study from The Allstate Foundation found 80 percent of teens cite their parents as having the most influence over their driving habits.
- Crash risk remains high after licensure. In fact, young drivers' crash risk does not significantly begin decreasing until age 25.
Annually, about two million teens are in their first year of driving on U.S. roads, according to NSC. Their driving poses a deadly risk for themselves and anyone who shares the road with them.
To help combat these crashes, NSC launched DriveitHOME.org, a website to help parents understand how to keep their teens safer on the roads.
Designed by parents for parents, the DriveitHOME.org website includes videos, practice tips, and other critical resources. The website uses humor to capture the attention of parents, educates them on the real dangers facing their teens on the roads, and helps them provide ongoing coaching tips for recently licensed teens.
DriveitHOME.org says that parents should consider spending at least 30 minutes each week driving with a newly-licensed driver, practicing specific skills together like:
- Scanning the road ahead to recognize and respond to hazards
- Controlling speed, stopping, turning, and following distances
- Judging the gaps between vehicles in traffic
- Managing the highest risks, such as driving at night and with young passengers
Be a Great Example, But Most Importantly - Talk
While our teenagers learn to model their driving after our own based on what they see, they also learn to make decisions based on conversations with their parents. Experts on child development say that when parents take time to talk–and more importantly, to listen–to their kids, those kids are more comfortable discussing tough issues. When teenagers open up and discuss tough issues, they practice learning how to make good decisions–including driving decisions.
As parents, we must provide our kids with opportunities to learn how to make great decisions, helping our teenagers build confidence and self-esteem.
Without alternative choices, the choice to experiment with dangerous activities like driving fast can be tempting for a teen.
But by giving teenagers a place to focus their energy and build self-esteem like afterschool activities; a hobby like music, art, or athletics; a positive influence or role model; scouting; a place to hang out like the Boys and Girls Club, or an after school job – we just might help a teenager decide that racing a car isn’t all that worthwhile.
Kaitlyn’s father Michael Benson said, “These young kids today with the technology, the high performance cars, the carelessness of their driving and thinking they’re invincible because they’re 17 and 18 and even younger... it’s not worth it to ride down the streets so you can slap high fives with somebody when you beat somebody in a car race.”
Lastly, Kaitlyn’s father had some advice for parents and their teenagers who might choose these types of dangerous activities. “Take a second; sit down and reflect on the decisions that they’re making to ensure when they get in those decisions or get in those situations… just think for a second about my baby that is now never going to come home.”
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.