In the June 2009 issue of AC, we brought you “License to Live,” a story about the importance of road safety for young drivers. We shared the stories of Skylar and Sommer Isdale (pictured to the right), sisters and former cheerleaders who survived an accident that permanently changed their lives in a split second, and also told you about the tragic accidents that claimed the lives of cheerleaders from Huntsville, TN, and Norfolk, VA. We know that getting behind the wheel is something you probably already love or can’t wait to do, but we want you to be safe and think critically about how you’ll behave when the keys are in your hand.
Thanks to better public knowledge about the dangers of drunk driving and changing the legal drinking age from 18 to 21, there are far fewer crashes due to drunk driving than there were just 10 or 20 years ago. But teens are still most susceptible to accidents due to driving late at night, speeding, driver error and distraction. “I think the major risk facing teens driving today is texting,” says Sommer, AC’s December 2006 Cheerleader of the Month and former cheerleader for Harker Heights HS and Extreme Cheer and Tumble in Texas. “You’re so used to being on your phone 24/7; many kids don’t even stop to think about doing it when they’re driving. You have no focus. What if you have to slam on your breaks? You won’t even know to do so because you’re looking down instead of paying attention to your surroundings. The distraction is immense and the consequences of that slight action can be fatal to you, your passengers, other drivers and respective families,” she says.
Sommer and Skylar were on their way to lunch, chatting and texting without a care in the world when their accident happened. That’s the last thing they remembered before being airlifted to a hospital for emergency treatment. The girls relied on faith, family and focus to get back on track and find alternative venues for their active lifestyles. Though cheer may be on the sidelines for now, they have a wealth of information to share about a new platform—safe teen driving. “I like to talk about the accident and let people know how important safe driving is and how it can save someone’s life,” says Sommer. “My life has definitely changed. I try to live every single day as if it’s my last—because today could be your last, or mine, you never know. Expect the unexpected; drive carefully and be prepared!”
Skylar, who wasn’t licensed to drive at the time of the accident, learned some critical lessons that she’ll carry with her every time she gets behind the wheel. “I think I’m a more informed driver and better able to handle a car,” she says. “Sometimes I get teary-eyed when I watch a movie where an accident happens; it still affects me, over a year later. We were both lucky enough to walk away from it,” says Skylar. “I try to be mature, influence my peers in a positive way and grow from everything I’ve learned.”
Make driving safety a priority and hopefully you’ll never have to experience anything like what the Isdale sisters went through. There are lots of ways you can stay safe on the roads and encourage your teammates to do the same. With spring already here and summer on the way, we know you’re thinking about proms, parties and picnics. Have fun, but be careful before you head out on the road—be smart and think before you drive. Take turns driving on long car trips, ban texting, eating and changing radio stations while driving, always wear your seatbelt, don’t overcrowd your car with passengers, and make sure you feel comfortable driving before you agree to drive yourself or anyone else anywhere. If you need a couple of brush-up lessons, or a parent to ride with you a few more times before you head out on your own, there’s no shame in your game. Drive safely!
Did you know? A few notable stats from a study sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI):
- The most common distraction for drivers is the use of cell phones. However, the number of crashes and near-crashes attributable to dialing is nearly identical to the number associated with talking or listening. Dialing is more dangerous but occurs less often than talking or listening.
- Reaching for a moving object increases the risk of a crash or near-crash by nine times; looking at an external object by 3.7 times; reading, applying makeup or dialing a handheld device (typically a cell phone) by three times; and talking or listening on a handheld device by 1.3 times.
- Drivers who engage frequently in distracting activities are more likely to be involved in an inattention-related crash or near crash. However, drivers are often unable to predict when it’s safe to look away from the road to multitask because the situation can change abruptly, leaving the driver no time to react even when looking away from the forward roadway for only a brief moment.
Check out these sites for contests, tips, info and the latest driving safety technology.
- thinkbeforeyoudrive.org: Test your driving know-how and enter to win prizes such as gas cards.
- actoutloud.org: Find out about the National Youth Traffic Safety Month and Act Out Loud contests.
- noys.org: Information and news from the National Organizations for Youth Safety.
- noys.maatiam.com: Shop for a cause—every time you shop online at your favorite online retail stores, a percentage of your purchase will be automatically donated to National Organizations for Youth Safety.
- stopimpaireddriving.org/TeenDriver/YouthSplashPage.htm: A great list of teen driving safety resources.
- ridelikeafriend.com: Tips on becoming a better passenger; features a car rule-setting tool for new drivers.
- allstateteendriver.com: Find out about Allstate’s Teen Parent Driving Contract.
- safedriver.com: Online safe driving program for teens.
- chop.edu: The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has vast safe driving resources.
- steerstraight.com: Log on to learn more about this exciting teen driver protection program.
- roadreadyteens.org: Safe driving program for parents and teens, includes an interactive driving safety video game
- nationalsafetycommission.com: Lots of driving safety resources.
- nhtsa.gov: Stats and reports on the state of driving safety.
- speakuporelse.com: Get your squad involved in this program where teens speak out and advocate against reckless driving.
- ecs.umass.edu/hpl: Access a free, downloadable teen driver training program, “Risk Awareness and Perception Training (RAPT)” specially developed at the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
- drivecam.com: Kit includes a windshield mountable camera, which monitors driving behaviors such as extreme braking, cornering, accelerating or collisions. Video shows the inside and outside of the car in the seconds before and after a crash so you understand what happened and why.
We asked the experts what they’d like you to know about safe driving. Here’s what they had to say:
- “As a former cheerleader myself, I know how important safety is within a squad—and that goes for times when you’re off the mat, too. Use your safety savvy to help your teammates and classmates make smart choices behind the wheel. Become advocates for road safety in your school and community—together, you can help reduce the leading cause of death for young people!” —Dr. Andrea Gielen, professor & director, Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
- “Distractions (peers in the car, texting, cell phone use, eating/drinking and even loud music) are what cause most teen accidents, so do your best to limit them when you’re a new driver. And always remember your seatbelt.” —Anne London, Steer Straight, Inc.
- “Passengers increase driving risks. When you’re the driver, select and control passengers carefully; when you’re a passenger, don’t tolerate risky driving and don’t distract the driver by talking on a cell phone or engaging in unruly behavior.” —Bruce Simons-Morton, EdD, MPH, Chief, Prevention Research Branch, Division of Epidemiology, Statistics & Prevention Research (DESPR), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
- “Check the air in your tires!” —David Bishai, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
- “You would never check texts in the middle of a cheer, yet you would drive and check a text? You have not only your life in your hands, but also the lives of everyone on the road. Be brave enough to speak up for your own safety.” —Sandy Spavone, executive director, National Organizations for Youth Safety
- “Teen drivers shouldn’t transport child or teen passengers for the first 1,000 miles or six months until they get their full license. After six months, they should only transport a single teen or child passenger. They should wait another six months before driving more than one teen or child passenger.” —The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
For more on Driving Safety and from the story “License to Live,” pick up the June 2009 issue of American Cheerleader magazine.