ENCINITAS — The perils of teen driving have hit home for many in the county as tragic stories of untimely death have become pervasive. Four local teens brought awareness to the issue in an effort to promote safe driving during the Teen Driving Safety 5K Beach Run along Moonlight beach Feb. 12.
“The kids were impacted by the rash of traffic accidents involving teens and they wanted to raise awareness,” said Sara MacGregor, whose son, Ian, was one of the organizers. As part of a project through Destination Imagination, MacGregor joined other high school students Gus Lack, Joel Kosmatka and Sarah Budman to create a program that would positively influence the target community.
Traffic Sgt. Mark O’Connor, with the San Diego County Sheriffs Department, said safe teen driving was an important message. “We’ve attached our star to their event,” he said. “It’s a good partnership.”
Not only did the department come out to give information on safe driving, but several officers also participated in the run.
The department has been working with the Smart Start program to ensure young people are aware of the consequences of their behavior behind the wheel. “We began implementing the program in November 2009,” O’Connor said. “There is a need for this type of training first-time drivers.”
Approximately 100 students showed up recently at a Start Smart presentation at San Dieguito Academy. “We’re hoping it’s sticking,” he said. The school will soon require all drivers who want an on campus-parking permit to take the class.
O’Connor admitted that law enforcement can only do so much when it comes to educating youth on safe driving. “That’s the loudest voice. When their peers start to get involved that’s where real change will happen,” he said.
Cardiff resident Victor Grewal, 32, spoke to the crowd after the run. “On March 28, 1984, a drunk driver ran a stop sign,” he said. Grewal was in a coma for two months followed by seven months in a rehabilitation facility. He is partially paralyzed on his left side and has permanent brain damage. “It’s very hard for me to remember things short term,” Grewal said.
The damage left in the wake of the crash made an impact on the teens as they, along with their parents, listened intently to Grewal’s story. “My dad was paralyzed, my mom and brother both had broken bones,” he said. Although he admitted he was nervous to talk to crowds before he spoke, Grewal said it was important to show the devastation a wrong choice can cause. “I want to open people’s eyes,” he said, “life is not easy when you have an injury.” Grewal struggles to retain information and continues to deal with physical pain from the accident.
“There were tears when Victor spoke,” MacGregor said. “I was happy that it made an impact on people.”
Nancy Perry-Sheridan with the San Dieguito Alliance for a Drug Free Youth was at the event to support the cause. “Kids think ‘this could never happen to me,’” she said, referring to car fatalities. She said the Start Smart program is unique in that parents must attend the class with their teen. “It gets the conversation started on what responsibilities come with getting behind the wheel,” she said.
Aside from being under the influence while driving, MacGregor said there are additional behaviors that are unsafe. “People get distracted by any electronic device,” he said. He encouraged young people to remind their parents to avoid distractions while driving as well. “Kids always like to defy their parents, right? This time it can be for good,” he said.
The turnout and support exceeded the organizer’s expectations. “Our basic goal was to raise awareness in our community about safe teen driving,” MacGregor said. “We figured we needed at least 150 student entry fees to break even but we got 240 runners in all.”
Funds from the event will be donated to the Amanda Post and Natalie Nield scholarship and SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving). Post and Nield, Cathedral Catholic high school students, were killed in a crash near Bishop last summer.