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Summer Deadliest Time, According to Statistics

Auburn driving instructor says easy to spot “risky” students
By: Kirsten Read Journal Correspondent
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For many teens, the word “summer” means newfound freedom. And, for some, that freedom includes taking to the roads for the first time with a newly acquired driver’s license. However, as with all freedom, the teenage summer experience also means increased responsibility. Deadly traffic crashes peek for teens during the summer months, a reminder that the choices teens make behind the wheel could mean the difference between life and death. According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, teens have three times as many fatal crashes as other drivers, and this increases during the summer months and their first year of solo driving. In the five-year period from 2005 to 2009, an average of 422 teens died in traffic crashes during each of the summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day as compared to a monthly average of 363 teen deaths during the non-summer months, according to the safety administration. Regarding the risks of teen driving, Sophia Hotlen, a driving instructor in Auburn, advises that students take their time when going through their training, rather than rush through it with only the goal of a license in mind. “Sixty percent want to get it done in six months, and that is not enough time to become a good defensive driver,” Hotlen said. In her 23-year experience as a driving instructor, Hotlen has seen two kinds of students: those that are cautious and meticulous, and those that are rushed and risky. When she encounters a student she feels is not taking the time to understand the risks of the road, she warns parents that the student could get in an accident if not properly taught the necessary skills. “I am usually right about those students,” Hotlen said. Cynthia Harris, a spokesman for AAA Northern California, urges parents to increase their focus on safety during these upcoming high-risk months, stating that their supervision, even after a teen has a license that allows solo driving, can effectively keep them safe. Parents are encouraged to continue to serve as driving coaches even after their teen is licensed, to limit the number of teen passengers, and to restrict night driving. Fatal crash rates for 16- to 19-year-olds increase fivefold when two or more teen passengers are present, and a teen driver’s chances of being involved in a deadly crash doubles when driving at night, according to statistics compiled by AAA. Some new laws for teen drivers have been put in place in the last two years in order to limit these risks. According to Hotlen, during their first year, a licensed driver cannot drive between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., and 16- and 17-year-old drivers cannot transport others under the age of 20. Ellen King, 16, a junior at Ghidotti Early College High School in Grass Valley, is one of Hotlen’s students. King was practicing her driving skills in Downtown Auburn Monday. She feels that the main hazards as a teen driver include other drivers “doing something unexpected.” Even as a careful driver, King is aware of the risks regarding teen driving. “If there is not adult in the car, and all of the people in it are new drivers, it’s hard to tell if they’re doing the safest thing,” King said. One way to ensure that teens are kept safe and parents’ rules are enforced is to establish a parent-teen driving agreement, according to AAA. This may cover rules regarding night driving, passengers, access to the car, and more. AAA offers a parent-teen driving agreement on its teen driver safety website. King feels having a clear layout of expectations from both the parent and the teen may also eliminate confusion and frustration regarding exactly what the boundaries are and when they are crossed. “There might have to be exceptions, but it would be good to all be on the same page,” King said.