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Driving past distractions

Teens encouraged to steer clear of distracted driving during California Teen Safe Driving Week
By: Andrew DiLuccia, Journal Motoring Editor
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ROSEVILLE — Sitting quietly and almost unnoticed in the corner of the auditorium stood a startling reminder of what happens when teenagers take risks on the road. It was a small section of a light pole — a prop that took on new meaning to the teenagers in attendance once they realized it took the life of Michael Ucci, when the car he was riding in hit it. That symbol of death, as well as a wrecked sport utility vehicle and the families left behind after these tragic accidents, were on hand Wednesday at the Placer County Fair and Events Center to send a powerful message — don’t drive distracted. In conjunction with California Teen Safe Driving Week, which ran March 21-27, Impact Teen Drivers, along with Bill McAnally Racing and Get Real Behind the Wheel, held a young driver expo at the fairgrounds and All American Speedway Wednesday to promote safe driving and give students hands-on experience. Vehicle accidents are the No. 1 killer of teenagers, according to Impact Teen Drivers. Teens and their parents from throughout the Sacramento Valley listened to California Highway Patrol officers, Impact Teen Drivers Executive Director Kelly Browning and many others talk about the dangers of driving while texting, eating, talking to passengers or reaching for that soda in the cup holder. “Every time you get in a motor vehicle you should be concerned. All it take is a second to change your life or other peoples’ lives,” McAnally told an audience of nearly 100 parents and teens. “Think about what you’re doing out there, think about who you’re with.” After the talks, students who registered and were accompanied by their parents were allowed to take their own vehicles through an obstacle course, which included four laps on the All American Speedway. The hands-on training was organized by Get Real Behind the Wheel, a program formed by Ken Ucci and Jeff Macey of Altamont Motorsports Park in Tracy after Ucci lost his son Michael in 2007, then a junior at West High School. “It was fun out there on the race course, going around in circles,” said Bear River High School sophomore Haylee Bodnar, who came down from the Lake of the Pines School with her mother, Lisa. “It was definitely different, but I liked it.” Bodnar, along with fellow Bear River sophomore Kelsey Mayo and her mother, Toni, enjoyed the teen driving expo and felt that hearing from the families of those killed in car wrecks, and the visual symbols left behind drove the point home to put the distractions away when it comes to driving. “I think it’s super important,” was Kelsey’s response when asked about the need for the program. “I’m definitely a distracted driver, but I’m working on it. I can see the cause and effect of it.” Lisa Bodnar felt the families’ personal stories cemented the message. “I think that having the families there had the biggest impact,” she said. “I think it made it real for them.” There are plenty of things that can distract teen drivers, everything from eating to drinking to applying make-up or changing songs on an iPod. But arguably one of the biggest distractions is the cell phone. Impact Teen Drivers reports that 80 percent of teen drivers own one. Both Haylee and Kelsey say they put their cell phones on vibrate or turn them off and put them out of reach when behind the wheel of a car. But there are still distractions that need to be eliminated, such as checking the hair in the rear view mirror, Kelsey said. Impact Teen Drivers’ Browning said one of the most important factors in helping teen drivers learn good driving habits is parents setting the standard. “You guys are the ones that are teaching your kids. If you follow the rules of the road, then they’ll know the rules of the road,” CHP officer Kelly Baraga told the audience of parents Wednesday. And the parents know they have to step up. “We need to do a better job,” parent Toni Mayo said. Even though there was a serious message sent at the Placer County Fair and Events Center last week, Browning stressed that they wanted the program to feature some fun to help engage the teens. And it did just that with raffles for computers, two Bill McAnally racecars on display with their drivers and a virtual driving machine. But the ultimate goal was the message — don’t drive distracted. It seemed to be getting through. “I think it has a really big effect, I hear these stories and I don’t want it to happen to me,” Kelsey Mayo said. “I don’t want to do that to my parents.” Andrew DiLuccia can be reached at andrewd@goldcountrymedia.com. __________ Distracted driving stats -- 80 percent of teen drivers own a cell phone. -- Nine out of 10 teens have witnessed teen drivers talking on a cell phone; seven out of 10 sometimes see emotionally upset teens drive while talking on a cell phone. -- The majority of fatigue-related crashes are caused by drivers under age 25. -- 94 percent of teens witness distracting behaviors by teen passengers at least sometimes. -- Among fatal crashes with 16-year-old drivers in 2003, 28 percent had three or more teenage passengers. Only 13 percent involved drivers with a blood alcohol content above 0.08 percent. -- Being awake for 18 hours is equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent, and leaves drivers at equal risk for a crash. -- 65 percent of teens observe other teens driving while very upset, stressed, angry or sad. -- 74 percent of teens observe other teens driving while very happy or excited. -- 55 percent of teens observe other teens exhibiting behavior described as "road rage." — Courtesy Impact Teen Drivers