Every teen knows of the intimidating facts that driving instructors throw at you. According to, car crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for teens, 35,000 teens have been involved in fatal crashes in the past five yaers, the number is constantly increasing, etc. Most teens hear these facts and they just go in one ear and out the other. Without a face or experience to associate with these facts, they are meaningless. Luckily, I recently got more experience and saw more faces than I would ever want to.
Like a spooky campfire story, everything began on Halloween 2008. While driving to my girlfriend’s house, I was pulled over and cited for an “unsafe lane change.” That moment set off a series of events that will remain scarred into my mind for the rest of my life. A few weeks later, I found myself standing in front of the judge. Looking down at the table in front of me, I saw every gruesome newspaper article involving a teen death in Sonoma County. The table was completely covered. The judge sentenced me to attend a CHP class called Start Smart.
Some time later, I arrived at the local CHP headquarters and crammed myself into a small room with about 30 other teenagers. the CHP officers began to spit out facts at us just as I expected they would. However, the class began to get serious as they started showing us clips of car wrecks from “Red Asphalt” and other disturbing videos. Just when I thought the horror was over, the officers introduced the class to the parents of a teen who had become one of those 35,000 victims. The parents’ story touched everyone in the room. I drove home like an old lady.
Every teen should be required to see the crashes and experience the feelings that came with the CHP course. However, the CHP class was only the beginning of my experience. A few weeks of cautious driving later, a teacher approached me at school and told me I had been chosen to be included in a secret event to be held at school. I was intrigued and decided to participate. The following week, I arrived at the back of school early and spent the morning out of class with the others that had been chosen. We were dead. Each of us was written into a fatal car crash scenario; the rest of the students were informed of our deaths. At about 10 in the morning, a 911 call crackled over the P.A. system. All students left their classrooms and walked down to the street to witness a staged car crash. It began to rain. Everyone sat silent as friends were pulled from the wreckage badly injured — or worse.
For most, this was the most intense part of the day. However, for the “dead,” our day had just begun. We were taken to a retreat center deep in the woods off Porter Creek Road. The better part of our night was made up of a meeting that felt like the CHP class all over again, but worse. We heard victims’ stories, we passed around a binder filled with graphic pictures of the most gruesome crashes in Sonoma County and we shared our stories. It was intense. The next day was our funeral at school, and the rest of the students got to experience a small part of what we did the night before.
Now I can relate myself to the facts, and I can put bloody faces behind the numbers and feelings into stories. Every teen should have to experience either the CHP class, Start Smart; the program at school, Every 15 Minutes; or any other program that can show that driving is a scary thing. It should be scarier than anything Halloween has to offer.