Law enforcement, safety groups remind teens to stay safe behind the wheel

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — This week marks Teen Driver Safety Week — a week dedicated to reminding teens of the important rules they need to follow in order to stay safe behind the wheel.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States.

“It’s hard with our younger generation to reinforce the fact of how dangerous it is to operate a motor vehicle,” said Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Chad Crittenden. “They underestimate that, as well as a lot of adults do that too, but we need to get that message out there that your life could change in an instant.”

A nationwide study conducted by the NHTSA showed almost 2,000 teens were in involved in fatal traffic crashes in 2015.

Trooper Crittenden said some of the causes in teen crashes include not using a seat belt, alcohol and drug use, and distracted driving.

According to traffic safety groups, distracted driving amongst teens is a much greater problem than previously thought. With technology on the rise, KHP wants to remind teens that looking down at a phone for a second or talking to a passenger can change their life in an instant.

Crittenden added that, in Kansas, most teen crashes they respond to are due to a lack of driving experience, saying that it’s important for new teen drivers to get repetition.

“Just because they do get a full-fledged drivers license and make it through driver’s ed, it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t continue to practice with an adult or someone supervising them to help continue that education,” he said.

Crittenden offered other ways parents can help keep their teen drivers safe behind the wheel:

  • Set an example by buckling up, obeying traffic rules and not using a cell phone while driving
  • Offer teens “road wisdom” you’ve acquired over the years. This insight could help a teen from learning the hard way.
  • Set rules for teen drivers, which should include zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol and setting a curfew. According to the NHTSA, almost 40 percent of teen vehicle crashes happen at night.

Law enforcement and traffic safety groups also try to keep teens safe behind the wheel through education. Just this year, Via Christi and KHP started bringing a driving simulator to local schools. It allows students to experience the risks involved with distracted or impaired driving.

Watch: KSN’s Amanda Aguilar tries out the distracted driving simulator

Via Christi recently received a $200,000 grant from Kohl’s to help fund a teen driving program that will provide hands on education to teens through year-round school presentations and community events. The program kicks off Saturday at the South YMCA’s weekly Late Night event for teens, from 8:30-11:30 p.m. Police and other program staff will be on hand to allow teens to use driving simulators and learn more about safe driving practices.