Teen drivers get a ‘Smart Start’ to driving from the CHP

When I was a kid growing up, my mom worked in the spinal cord injury unit at Santa Clara County Valley Medical Center in San Jose. As a hospital service attendant, she worked with people who found themselves paralyzed due to actions of their own or others.

Those actions included jumping into a pool, lake or ocean without knowing how deep the water was. Some were roughed up too much during a friendly game of football. There were those who caught the wrong end of a bullet after being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

And others were injured in car crashes. Perhaps they were drinking. Maybe they were the passenger in a car with someone who was drinking and driving. Others were struck by a drunk driver.

In an attempt to steer me in the right direction, she took me to work and introduced me to people as young as in their teens who were once strong-bodied individuals with goals and a plan. They never imagined they would one day rely on a wheelchair to propel themselves down the hall because their legs no longer worked. And there were those who couldn’t move at all, and could barely talk, without the assistance of another person or a machine.

It’s that essence of learning life lessons from other people’s stories and losses that’s the premise of the California Highway Patrol’s Smart Start program.

Once a month, the Aptos area CHP office offers two-hour driver’s education classes for young drivers and their parents. The goal is to teach about traffic laws and provide teen drivers and their parents the tools to make the right decisions. After all, traffic collisions are the No. 1 killer of teens, according to statistics from federal and state transportation safety agencies.

A graphic video is shown featuring horrific collisions involving twisted metal that used to be cars and bloody, lifeless bodies lying in unnatural positions. Survivors of those crashes, and the loved ones of those killed in them, spoke about the moments preceding the wreck and the ways life has changed since.

“The film was pretty shocking,” said Kim Havbo, who attended the class Monday with her son, Kris Strunk, 18. “I think it was good for the kids to see.”

After the film, attendees learned that speed was the No. 1 contributor to collisions. They also learned about the dangers of tailgating, improper seatbelt use, unlawfully using their cell phones and texting, as well as distracted driving, driving while intoxicated or sleepy and driving to impress or scare someone.

Parents and students alike were also able to ask all the traffic law and enforcement questions that came to mind.

The CHP is talking with insurance companies about offering a credit to families that attend the Smart Start class. Until then, a certificate of completion will be issued to families that request it.

The next Smart Start session is Wednesday, June 24. Space is limited. To RSVP, call 662-0511.   

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