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‘Start Smart’ for teen drivers

Newhall CHP hosts free class to educate new drivers

Posted: May 7, 2009 7:56 p.m.
Updated: May 8, 2009 4:55 a.m.

John Lutz, California Highway Patrol public information officer, right, hands out gifts to the student and the parent attendees of the "Start Smart" driving class offered at the Newhall CHP Station.

 
Mitch Aronson, of Saugus, walked into a classroom at the Newhall Area California Highway Patrol Station with his 16-year-old daughter, Georgie. Lisa Caver with her 20-year-old son walked in shorty afterward and sat up toward the front.

They weren’t at the station to fight a ticket or to turn anyone in. They were there to learn.

They glanced through the handouts left at each seat as they waited for instruction to begin. A folder with a drawing of a wide-eyed teenage boy behind the wheel of a car lay before each student with the phrases “Start Smart” and “Driving smart to stay safe” on it.

Next to the folder was a skinny note pad reminding users not to drink and drive with a logo that read “Don’t hesitate to designate.”

Each attendee also received a booklet called “What to do in case of a vehicle collision” which contained a questionnaire asking for the necessary information. The handy little booklet is also designed to carry the driver’s car insurance card and registration card on the inside flap.

“Thank you for coming,” said Michelle Esposito, the senior volunteer coordinator and community outreach officer for the Newhall office of the California Highway Patrol. Esposito has served as a CHP officer for 22 years.

Fifteen-year-old Brandon Quinn entered the room with his mom, Barbie, and took a seat, looking through the goodies left on the table.

“What is Start Smart and why are we teaching this?” Esposito asked. “We are doing this because there is no formal education for young drivers anymore.”

Esposito recalled when she was attending Saugus High School is the 1980s, the school offered multiple driving education courses.

“We had to go through driver’s ed and a behind-the-wheel program,” she said. “Now you have to pay for everything.”

The free class, called “Start Smart,” is geared toward new drivers or soon-to-be drivers.

John Lutz, California Highway Patrol public information officer, said the purpose of the class is to give teens the benefit of experience before a crash happens. He led the class alongside Esposito.

“Teens get into a lot of accidents around here,” Lutz said. “The teen population is between the ages of 15 and 25.”

Start Smart is a partnership between the CHP, the DMV, and the community. The class is offered once a month.

“We identify mistakes here,” Lutz said. “It’s about making good choices.”

Part of the CHP’s goal in protecting and serving the community is to lower the mileage death rate.

“How do we do this?” Lutz asked. “Through enforcement and education.”

The officers informed the class of some statistics they’re trying to eradicate. Among the statistics: Motor-vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death for teens. Sixty percent of collisions in the United States involve teenagers. Yet they only make up four percent of the population.

“I hate to say it, but most of them are at fault,” Lutz said. “I completely contribute this to lack of experience. The best way to learn is through other people’s mistakes.”

“Lots of kids have a video game mentality,” Esposito said. “You drive a motor vehicle. It’s a weapon.”

The Start Smart class aims to educate new drivers and to give them a realistic depiction of the consequences if the responsibility is not taken seriously.

“Driving is a privilege, not a right,” Esposito said.

As a part of the class, students watched the most recent “Red Asphalt” video, the fifth in a series of instructional driver’s education videos produced by the CHP. The films are known for their graphic depictions of car collisions involving young people.

“The video is very graphic and unfortunately, it happens everyday. On every highway.” Esposito said. “We have to deal with these scenes.”

Parents have a role, too
Parents are also invited to attend because the class offers suggestions on how parents can be proactive in their children’s driving career. In addition to educating teens and parents, the course also discussed issues with local driving problems.

“We invite parents to educate them on what’s going on today,” Lutz said.

According to the instructors, the average American takes their first drink at age 12. The officers suggested ways on how to open communication between parent and new driver to avoid bad decision-making in the future.

“Make contracts,” Lutz said, as he passed out copies of a contract one parent made with his child. “Set rules and boundaries. Check up on your kids. Drive with them in adverse weather. Continually monitor their progress.”

He reminded parents that they are responsible for their child’s actions.

“Parents, take the car away,” he said. “It’s your car. Your liability.”

“You are responsible for your minor,” Esposito said. “Don’t take that responsibility lightly.”

They also informed parents they have the right to go to the DMV to suspend their minor’s driving license. The DMV won’t even ask any questions.

“Most importantly parents,” Lutz continued. “Be a role model for your kids.”

The officers suggested using something they call commentary driving, where the parent vocally announces what he or she is doing while driving with the new driver or soon-to-be-driver. The newbie can observe and listen as another way of learning. Parents are also encouraged to teach their student-driver how to change the oil, check tire pressure and perform other car maintenance to maintain the vehicle in proper working condition, further reducing the chance of causing a collision.

“Crashes are avoidable,” Lutz said. “They’re not accidents. Communication with your young driver is key.”

Start Smart, leave smart
The class covered a wide range of information regarding the driving world. Among the information covered: What major collision-factors consisted of, what the average reaction times are, the point system on a driver’s record, provisional license rules and other points of law.

“When you get a license, you sign a waiver to be tested if driving under the influence,” Esposito said. “A lot of people don’t know that.”

Once the class finished, Esposito passed out certificates to each of the students.

“Show it to your insurance companies,” she said. “Some will recognize it and give a discount.”

“Driving is something that we will be doing for the rest of our lives,” Lutz said. “What is more important than to continue to be educated in driving?”

The students, soon-to-be-drivers and parents, left satisfied.

“I loved it. I received a lot of information,” Lisa Caver said. “I’m going home to tell my husband about what I learned. I have another son that needs to come to this. I’m going to take him to the next one.”
Classes will be held 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. May 19, June 23, July 23, Aug. 18 and Sept. 22 at the Newhall CHP Station, 28648 The Old Road, Valencia. Attendees must RSVP (661)294-5540 and provide name, parent name and daytime telephone number.

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