If one life is saved, the teen driver safety program will be worth the effort

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Tim Groover knows all too well the heartbreak of losing a child in an automobile crash involving a teen driver.

In November 2002, his 15-year-old daughter Brittany was killed as the result of an accident while riding with another teen. That car went out of control and slammed into a school bus in front of Forest Middle School. The last entry in his daughter's diary on her computer stated: "You cannot change your beginning, but you certainly can change your ending."

Bringing change is something at the heart of an initiative announced last week concerning teen driving in Bedford County.

Sparing other families the pain of having to go through similar loss is the driving force behind last week's announcement of the Virginia Teen Driver Coach Safety Project, a project which includes Bedford County. Groover, an alumnus of Virginia Tech, brought the concerns of BedCo Cares ? a group committed to finding ways to address teen driving safety ? to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Through that introduction, the project was launched to help curb teen driving accidents.

The needs are obvious. All too often over the past several years Bedford families have had to deal with losing a child on Bedford County roads. Too many lives have been lost, too many futures have been cut short.

Some facts about teen drivers:

? Young teen drivers are more likely to be cited for speeding, running traffic signals, reckless driving and failure to yield right of way than older teen drivers.

? Teen impaired driving is a common occurrence, with 25 percent of fatally injured teen drivers having a blood alcohol level over .08 percent.

? Teen drivers are five times more likely to get into a distraction-related crash, or near crash, than their adult counterparts. That risk continues to go up with the proliferation of text messaging and the use of IPODs.

? Teen drivers are four times more likely to be involved in a drowsiness-related crash, or near crash, than any other group.

? Teen drivers more often fail to recognize and respond to hazards and their associated risks. This can include over-correcting after running off the road or braking inadequately or too hard.

Experience is the key and often the best teacher. The safety project by VTTI will help give teen drivers instant feedback on their driving skills ? while in the vehicle ? along with providing information for parents and researches to follow-up with coaching tips later.

The program involves a three-pronged approach:

? Parent-Teen contracts will be a key. These contracts will place responsibility on both the teen and the parent of the teen to have the teen practice safe driving while in the vehicle. Education on safe driving practices will be provided.

? Training for specific hazard conditions, developing recognition and response skills, will be provided.

? A monitoring system will be placed in vehicles driven by the teens as part of the Driver-Coach program. Through this system, invented by VTTI, the monitor will provide video and electronic feedback to both parents and teens including in the areas of excessive speed, alcohol sensing, distraction monitoring and extreme maneuver monitoring.

Stated Groover of the program: ?This initiative represents an unprecedented coalition completely focused on saving teen lives. It is a bright spot on the horizon for any family who has lost a child and wants to prevent others from experiencing a similar loss.?

This is a program worth the effort ? for teen drivers, their families and this community. And while a monitoring system in those first days of driving might seem like an inconvenience to a teen, it's an inconvenience they and their families just can't live without. The alternative ? not doing anything ? just costs too much.