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Accident pushes Placer High students to promote safe driving

Driver, 17, faulted in crash that shut I-80, sent several to hospital
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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A rollover accident on Interstate 80 involving eight Placer High School students is causing Auburn teenagers to encourage safety behind the wheel.

Clare McInerney, a junior at Placer High, entered the Teen-to-Teen Safe Driving Campaign Contest after six of the eight students in a Sept. 14 accident were sent to area hospitals. One of those students, Andrew Carducci, was partially ejected from the vehicle and had to be flown to the hospital via Calstar.

"I was pretty good friends with Andrew, who was hurt very badly, so I talked to Mr. (Mike) Sabins after the accident because I really wanted to do something so he looked it up and this is what we came up with," McInerney said.

The crash occurred during lunch hour at Placer High just after an on-ramp to Interstate 80. The eight students in a Chevrolet Trailblazer were off campus for lunch when the car collided with a tractor trailer, then into an embankment and flipped. Two of the students were not wearing seatbelts and six of the eight were flown to area hospitals.

The accident in question has since been investigated and David Martinez, spokesman for the California Highway Patrol, said the 17-year-old girl driving the green Trailblazer carrying the eight students has been found at fault for making an unsafe turn while entering Interstate 80. The girl is not being named because of her age.

"Her speed was too high and she could not negotiate the curve, so she lost control of the vehicle and ended up going into the slow lane and hitting the big rig, which caused the car to roll," Martinez said.

Martinez said the girl was driving outside of the provisions of her license. California law requires drivers who are younger than 18 to be accompanied by a parent or guardian for the first year of holding a provisional license.

Those who are younger than 18 are prohibited from having passengers who are younger than 20 for the first year and cannot drive between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., as well.

Martinez said the investigation has been turned over the Placer County District Attorney's Office.

"This law is in place for a reason, so people get that driving experience without passengers for the first year so this type of situation can be avoided," Martinez said.

Since the accident, all of the students involved have gone back to school except Carducci, who is still undergoing rehabilitation at home. Carducci suffered a fractured skull and concussion from the accident.

McInerney said as part of the Teen-to-Teen Safe Driving Campaign, she and fellow students will first circulate surveys about driving habits at school.

"They'll ask stuff like ‘how often do you text while driving? Do you wear a seatbelt? Do you listen to the radio?'" McInerney said.

Other students will hang signs promoting safe driving and they will be taking note of which students drive into the Placer High parking lot wearing seatbelts throughout the week.

After one week, the students will turn in their campaign results and their action plan. It will be compared to other entries from schools throughout Placer, Sacramento, Yolo and Eldorado counties.

First-place winners receive $500, second-place winners get $250 and third-place winners get $125.

"We just want to see if kids are driving safely or not," McInerney said.

The effort at Placer High School to encourage safe driving habits falls in line with National Teen Driver Safety Week.

In 2010, there were more than 57,000 drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 involved in crashes throughout the state, according to the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System for the California Highway Patrol. In 67 percent of those crashes a teen driver was determined to be at fault, according to a press release issued by the CHP.

Sophia Hotlen, owner and operator of the Sophia Hotlen Driving School in Auburn, said getting teenagers to "see the big picture" is one of the most important lessons she teaches.

"There can be a lot of excitement when you're friends are in the car and I tell them not to let themselves be distracted," Hotlen said.

On Monday, Hotlen was giving Rachel Forbes, 18, one last hour of review before she went in to take her test to lift the provisions from her license. Forbes said the three two-hour classes she took from Hotlen taught her aspects of driving she didn't know about, like checking a blind spot.

"Before I took this course I thought I was a perfect driver, but then I realized I didn't know all of the stuff I needed to pass the test," Forbes said.

Hotlen said she teaches her students to "identify, predict, decide and execute" all of their actions while driving.

"You always have to be alert. I tell them that this is like a sport. You always look for the ball, but here you look for the hazards," Hotlen said.

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.