COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Keeping our teens safe on the road

Not again. Five more teens have been in another North County car crash resulting in one fatality and several injuries. My heart sank as I read the newspaper headline and thought about all of those affected by this most recent tragedy — the teens, their families, peers, schools, neighbors, fire, police and hospital personnel that attend to the medical needs.
There are efforts in our local communities to make a difference by working together to raise awareness about driving safety.
“You drink, you drive, you’re done,” was the theme of the Start Smart driving class held at San Dieguito High School Academy in Encinitas on May 19 in response to the alarming rate of teen car crashes, fatalities and injuries in North County this year.
The class was targeted to teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 with a driver’s permit or license and their parent or guardian. One key to the class is that parents and teens attend the class together, providing the ideal opportunity to talk about issues that are raised in the class, and to discuss family rules and expectations.
The objective for this class, which was sponsored by the Encinitas Sheriff’s Department, was to educate parents and teens about safe driving habits and to increase awareness about the responsibilities of driving. Parents and teens watched videos of inexperienced teen driving and high-risk behaviors.
“I always have a hard time getting through this presentation when I look at the photos from scenes of car crashes that I responded to,” Deputy Sheriff Matt Carpenter said. “These crashes affect me for a long, long time.” The class also offered useful tips to avoid collisions, develop safe driving habits, discuss parental roles and responsibilities and a chance to learn from personal testimonies.
An added outcome of this class was the opportunity for parents and teens to talk about family expectations about various situations such as not getting into a car with someone that has been drinking, and to develop action plans. “Having the opportunity to talk with my daughters about problem solving and handling issues before they arise is invaluable,” said Denise Fidel, parent of freshman and sophomore daughters who attended the Start Smart class. Parents and teens were provided with many resources, such as the California Highway Patrol’s driving safety agreement, parenting booklets about navigating the teen years and information about the social host ordinance.
We know that some parents allow their teens and their friends to drink alcohol in their homes, in spite of the fact that it is illegal. The social host ordinance is designed to crack down on “house parties,” where underage drinking is permitted. Parents that allow teens to drink at their home can be charged with a misdemeanor, which carries a fine up to $1,000, and/or six months in jail, and community service obligations.
There are consequences for underage providers as well. Teenagers between the ages of 13 and 21 who violate the law may have their driver’s licenses suspended, revoked or delayed for up to one year for each offense related to the possession. This is true even if the offense does not involve an automobile.
“The community response to the Start Smart classes has exceeded all of our expectations,” Encinitas Sgt. Mark O’Connor said. “Our job is to enforce the law and to educate drivers. Getting behind the wheel is a serious responsibility. Clearly, we are pleased to help parents instill the important message of driving safely to their teenage drivers, which in turn, promotes public safety.”
These popular classes have been held throughout the year at San Dieguito High School Academy. “We are so pleased to continue our partnership with the Encinitas Sheriff’s office and San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth and offer these popular and important driving safety classes throughout next year as well,” Parent Foundation President Abby Fisher said.
With upcoming graduation celebrations and summer just round the corner, let’s all be smart and stay safe.

Nancy Perry-Sheridan, MSW, is a prevention specialist with San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth.

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