MILLEDGEVILLE — Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for 107 drivers aged 16 who died in the first six months of just last year. The deaths of younger drivers nationwide increased by 21 compared to the first half of 2011, but in Georgia, however, fewer teens died during the same time period.
In a report released Tuesday by the Georgia Governor’s Highway Safety Association, the preliminary data states that there were five deaths among 16 and 17 year-old drivers in Georgia between January and June of 2012, which is down from six deaths during the first half of 2011.
Despite recent increases in driver deaths among 16 and 17 year-olds, deaths remain at much lower levels than in the early years of the 21st century. Programs like the SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) program at Baldwin High School have given teens an in-your-face reality check about the consequences of destructive decisions while encouraging good habits behind the wheel.
“Based on the latest data, 18 teens die everyday nationwide from reckless driving. The number one killer is traffic accidents and the big contribution to that is alcohol and texting while driving,” said Crawford Finley, high school SADD advisor. “I do think the SADD members, just by word of mouth, have made an impact in the school. There have been several instances where students come and tell me that when they’re going out with other teenagers and there aren’t enough seatbelts, then they won’t get in the car.”
According to the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety website, Students Against Driving Drunk was founded in 1981 and the organization has grown to become the nation’s dominant peer-to-peer youth prevention organization with thousands of chapters in high schools. In a response to requests from SADD students themselves, SADD expanded its mission and name 16 years later, and now sponsors chapters called Students Against Destructive Decisions. SADD highlights prevention of all destructive behaviors and attitudes that are harmful to young people, including underage drinking, substance abuse, impaired driving, violence and suicide.
“Teens are the most inexperienced drivers. We have seen a decrease in number of 16 year-olds getting their license and 17 year-olds has increased, so we’re hopefully getting more of an experienced driver,” said Harris Blackwood, director of Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “Every 16 year-old knows the law and what their limitations are, but often times parents do not. We want to make parents a partner and make their children safe; we’re doing everything we can to spread that message.”
With the high school’s prom scheduled April 20, Finley said SADD will continue empowering the student body with knowledge of prevention initiatives through various activities and events within the school, including Grim Reality, Click-It-Or-Ticket and Ghost Out to reiterate the importance of taking precaution while in a vehicle.
“When we do the Click-It-Or-Ticket in the parking lot, we check to make sure students are wearing their seat belts as they exit and we have seen significant success because by seeing us out there, they know they have to buckle up,” Finley said. “There are too many children in a morgue because of destructive decisions. Everyone has to take individual responsibility and understand there’s plenty of time to talk, but just don’t do it on the phone while driving. We’re trying to do what we can to save lives.”
The local SADD program is also in the midst of collaborating with local law enforcement, city and county officials and business owners for their new campaign titled “21 or Bust.” Students plan to place stickers and posters in area businesses serving alcohol as a way to enforce the checking of ID’s and encourage customers to not purchase alcoholic beverages for those underage.
“We are so proud of our SADD chapters and we’re working to grow the chapters around the state. When the message comes from a peer, it’s a message that’s more received than coming from a television campaign or adult,” Blackwood said. “We hope for the best and that there are no fatalities in Baldwin County, but we have to realize that when you put a young driver behind the wheel of a car, they’re behind 2 tons of steel; it can be a lethal weapon.”
For more information about the SADD program, or to view the full report, visit www.gahighwaysafety.org.
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