Agency campaigning to slow down teen fatalities - East Valley Tribune: News

Agency campaigning to slow down teen fatalities

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Posted: Saturday, August 9, 2003 4:02 am | Updated: 2:23 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

AAA Arizona lost a battle last year to strengthen teen driving laws, but hasn't given up on reducing the number of teen fatalities.

Four teens killed in auto crashes in the East Valley and Tucson in the past week is fueling the organization's cause.

A handful of state legislators and the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division could extend their support.

"The way we're approaching the campaign this year is completely different than last year," said AAA Arizona spokeswoman Kim Pappas-Miller. "What we're hoping to achieve is the same."

Opponents have said stricter laws would hamper farmers and parents who depend on their teens for work and errands. They also said it's a parent's responsibility, not Arizona's, to monitor teen drivers.

Sen. Carolyn Allen, R-Scottsdale, said she would be open to bills that require driver's education classes for teens, but her decision would depend on the specific language in the measures and the costs to consumers.

"We better check first and find out what the expense of driver's education is. Not all families would have the wherewithal," she said. "Teenagers driving and drinking and not wearing seat belts is not a new phenomenon. It is well-intended to pass legislation, but the reality of it is you can pass all the laws in the world and when you’re talking about teenagers and cars and the availability of alcohol, I do not know that passing laws will stop them from doing it."

Stricter teen-driving bills tend to crop up at the Arizona Legislature after a fatality, she said.

On Aug. 1, Phillip Jacob Staun III, an incoming junior at Desert Mountain High School, died when his car crossed the median on Shea Boulevard in Fountain Hills and hit a pickup truck, killing 38-year-old Mesa resident Martin Bonilla. Three of Staun's classmates, D.J. Steinberg, Tanner Peyton and Chad Barnes were injured in the crash. The teens were inhaling aerosol computer cleaners, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office said.

A crash in Tucson on Tuesday morning killed three people, including two teens. Four other young people were injured at 4 a.m. when the van they were riding in was going 60 mph in a 25 mph zone and flipped on its side. None of them were wearing seat belts and authorities believe alcohol was involved.

Since November, at least seven East Valley teens have died in auto crashes.

Experts say auto crashes are the leading cause of death for people 15 to 20 years old and killed 147 Arizona youths ages 10 to 19 in 2002, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation. Nationally, 5,582 teenagers ages 13-19 died in vehicle crashes in 2001, according to the latest data from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.

"Young people have a tendency to believe they are invincible," Pappas-Miller said.

Speeding, drugs and alcohol and not wearing seat belts are some of the main contributors to teen deaths in auto crashes, highway analysts and law enforcement officials say.

Teens can get their licenses after taking a training course approved by the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division or after their parents certify their teens have completed 25 hours of supervised driving practice, which includes five hours of supervised night driving. In some states, driver training is mandatory before a license is issued.

AAA Arizona lobbied this year for a bill that would have restricted night driving, limited passengers and required driver’s training for teens, but the bill didn't make it past committee.

"We can maybe bolster up the law, but the key to the whole teen driver safety is to ensure that teens get the driving practice that they need and that parents and teens are aware of the law," said Cydney DeModica, spokeswoman for MVD. "Adherence to the law is so important."

AAA has started partnering with driving schools to increase responsible driving through AAA curriculum and standards. The Valley's first partnership is with Arizona Driving and Traffic Survival School with locations in Chandler and Scottsdale.

Teens make up about 5 percent of drivers nationally, but are involved in nearly 14 percent of all crashes, according to AAA studies. They are four times more likely to die in a crash than adults. One-fourth of the drivers age 16 to 20 who died in crashes last year had a blood alcohol level of 0.08, which is legally drunk in Arizona, according to AAA studies.

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