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West Valley City Journal

Driving smart – what Zero Fatalities is doing to teach teens about safe driving choices

Mar 16, 2020 03:21PM ● By Kathryn Elizabeth Jones

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of car accidents. (Photo by Alexandre Boucher/Unsplash)

By Kathryn Elizabeth Jones | [email protected]

On Feb. 11, hundreds of teens and their parents stood in a single line that traveled from the Hunter High School auditorium doors to the commons area, and almost to the inside front doors. This was a mandatory visit, one that would allow teens from Utah one car closer to getting their coveted driver’s license.

Once inside the auditorium doors, parents and students signed their names – proof that they’d been there – before making their final ascent to the chairs inside.

There, teens and parents listened intently as Natalie Lovell from Zero Fatalities gave a presentation ranging from topics such as how Zero Fatalities is a “realistic goal” to how seatbelts should be on “every person in the car.”

“One person unbuckled can be a projectile and kill others,” Lovell said, and if you’re ejected from the car there’s a 75% chance of dying from your injuries. “When you’re driving, you’re the boss. Wait until all of the seatbelts are on.”

Zero Fatalities, a UDOT and Utah Department of Public Safety program, offers students an opportunity to drive safely. Although the program is mandatory for teen drivers, the program is really about not losing any more lives.

Last year, 264 lives were lost in Utah from car crashes, according to Lovell, who believes that Zero Fatalities is not an unrealistic goal to reach.

“How would you feel if the goal wasn’t zero fatalities but five fatalities a year?” she asked. “What if one of the five was someone you loved? What if it was you?”

Though some have said they are never going to reach this goal, Lovell believes everyone can make the goal possible.

“Don’t drive stupid,” she said. “Be responsible.”

Being responsible doesn’t just mean learning the rules but following them in every situation. “People think they’re the exception. They’re not. Be the driver you want your teenager to be.”

She has seen men shaving while driving and men and women watching movies on their iPads.

“Men are not exempt from the beauty distraction… [and] watching movies while driving is the worst thing I’ve seen.”

“It’s all about choices on the road,” she said. “We don’t get to decide the consequences of our choices.”

Last year, 37,000 people died in car crashes in the United States. Speeding was a factor in 40% of the fatalities and crashes then and now occur for many reasons including talking on cellphones, dropping a water bottle while driving, and reaching down to pick it up; changing the radio, going through a yellow light in an intersection, speeding, driving after drinking alcohol, driving while tired or even talking to the driver to keep him/her awake.

The problem?

It doesn’t work.

“Talking isn’t the answer,” Lovell said. What works is getting a good night’s sleep, getting out of the car for frequent breaks, stretching, walking around, stopping to eat, switching drivers and taking a nap.

“Drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving,” she said.

And if teens have been drinking, they need to know they can count on parents or adults for help. “They need to know they can call you at any time for any reason.”