Maria Carrillo junior Kristyn Casalino makes a call after a crash before school Jan. 15. on Montecito Boulevard. Maria Carrillo students have been involved in more than 30 collisions this year. Photo by Tim Gooler of Maria Carrillo High School's Puma Prensa

By TIM GOOLER, SENIOR, 17
and KARINNE CUSENZA, JUNIOR, 16
MARIA CARRILLO HIGH SCHOOL

Many drivers feel invincible behind the wheel of a car, despite the more than one in five teenage drivers who are involved in a collision within the first year of being issued their driver’s license and the more than 6,000 teenagers killed annually nationwide in fatal collisions. Maria Carrillo High School students are no exception. As of early this year more than 30 students had been involved in collisions on and off campus.
“Every year, there are a few accidents near campus that come to our attention,” said Vice Principal Rand Van Dyke.
Take the multiple student-involved accidents on Montecito Boulevard that have occurred before and after school, for example, or the countless “fender benders” in the school parking lot caused by students rushing to get home.
“Everybody coming to and from school in this parking lot are impatient and always in a hurry,” Van Dyke said. “I’m surprised there aren’t more accidents, honestly.”
Senior Maria Ruiz had been driving 10 months when she rear-ended an MCHS parent earlier this school year after school on Montecito Boulevard.
“It was the first rain of the season, and I was checking my blind spot when the car in front of me hit his brakes for the crosswalk, and it was too late,” Ruiz said. “I wasn’t as experienced, and it was my first really hard rainy day. My parents wanted me to drive slower on rainy days, but I ignored their advice.”
Not to mention the occasional teen driver showing off their reckless driving skills.
Reckless driving, specifically speeding, is the leading cause of fatal collisions involving teenagers. Students who drive recklessly in the school parking lot, if caught, may even face school suspension.
“I challenge you to think about your parents and your brothers and sisters when you get behind the wheel, because they’re the ones who will be affected,” Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua said during an Alive at 25 presentation.
Each year, nearly 6,000 teens are killed in fatal collisions, making it the leading cause of teenage death in the United States.
“Really think about what you’re doing,” said Julie Callan, who lost her son, Brett, a Casa Grande High sophomore, to a fatal collision in 2004. “Every teen thinks they’re invincible, but that’s not going to keep you safe. Try to slow down and make good choices that won’t affect your family.”
Students “don’t believe the consequences apply to them. They don’t believe the idea that it’s going to happen to me,” Van Dyke said. “But a little dose of reality will change their perspective of driving.”
“I’m more careful about (driving) now,” said junior John Stilman, who had been driving three weeks when his car collided with junior Yulianna Zyrianov’s car after school. “My parents were pretty pissed off, and the price of insurance went up.”
The case was the same for Zyrianov, who said “the worst part about getting in the accident was what happened afterward; my parents were always strict, but now it’s ridiculous.”
“The first accident I was trying to hit the brakes, but I hit the gas instead and backed into an airplane hangar,” said senior Kyle Keith, who has been the driver behind two separate vehicle mishaps in just one year. “My view on driving hasn’t changed, but I was never a speeder.”
“Driving is all about decisions. How we drive is determined before we even get in the car,” said Officer David MacDonald, the Santa Rosa police officer who instructs the Alive at 25 program at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma County high schools. “If you’re a person who is always in a rush, that’s going to translate into your driving.”
There are more than 1,000 fatal accidents involving teens caused by impaired drivers under the influence of either drugs or alcohol every year.
Junior Mitsuru Rau said, “I know people who drink and drive, or drive high. They do it because they think they are in control even though they are not.”
Drivers convicted of driving under the influence face fines and remedial costs of up to $13,000, and the cost of typical collisions can be measured by increased insurance rates and vehicle repairs, among other things. “I had to pay my parents $1,800 after the accident,” Keith said.
“An accident is what happens when you’re doing all the right things,” Callan said.
Preventable accidents are the result of driver error. Surprisingly, 99.2 percent of crashes that happen in the United States are preventable. A true accident, such as a tree falling and hitting a car driven by an alert driver abiding by the speed laws, is rare.
The Alive at 25 is a four-hour course taught at Santa Rosa Junior College designed to make teens better and safer drivers. Many teens who receive tickets are court-ordered to attend the course, but teenage drivers are welcomed to attend the course on their own, and it’s cheaper.
“We give teens the tools to be a more defensive driver. Defense is what’s going to save your life,” MacDonald said.
This article is reprinted from Maria Carrillo High School’s Puma Prensa.