Teen Driving becomes a 'serious epidemic'Wednesday, March 04, 2009 By Blanche Turpel
Renee Swantek, a junior at Northwest High School, died January 4, 2009 as a result of an automobile accident. A mere four days later on January 8, Monique Glaspie who attended Tomlinson Alternative High School also died due to a car accident. Communities, families, friends, peers and entire schools are left to cope with these tragedies. Almost every year, students have to live with the loss of a peer. In the eleven years, several Jackson High students have been killed in car accidents including Jarrod Alger in 1996, Justin Meehall in 1991, Jeremy Belden in 2000 and Amanda Santana in 2007. "There is nothing good about a teen funeral," math teacher and former soccer coach of Meehall and Alger, Sam Ulstad said. "If anything, the deaths of my two former players made me more cautious of my own children who drive. I harass them more about being safe," Ulstad said. Many parents cannot help but worry every time their child picks up the keys and heads for the door. It’s a balancing act of faith in one’s children against the knowledge that kids make mistakes every day. And mistakes made while driving can be fatal. Teen’s first years behind the wheel bring newfound freedom and responsibility along with potential danger. Not concentrating for a single second may change a life forever. These days food, music, passengers and especially cell phones can impair a driver’s concentration and potentially have severe consequences. The goal in driving should simply be to get to get to the destination safely. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for fifteen to twenty year-olds. Then, of course, there are the many innocent victims who die in car crashes with teens each year. Joe Alger, father of Jarrod Alger and advocate for organ donations as well as public speaker for teens, said, "I think it’s important for most teenagers to understand that automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for their age group. I don’t think they grasp what that means. The media gives a lot of press to such things as AIDS and cancer but teens need to realize that every time they get into a car it is just as serious. Everyone needs to realize that automobile accidents are a serious epidemic and no one is addressing it," Alger stated. Alger is also very active in promoting organ and tissue donation and recommends that everyone should sign up when receiving a license to be a potential organ donor. Information for organ donorship can be found at giftoflifemichigan.org. "On our streets, 40,000 to 50,000 people die each year. It’s a horror to watch family and friends deal with the devastation," Alger said. Jackson High student counselor Dr. Meier said, "In helping a friend or peer dealing with a loss, it is important to remember there are no magic words or anything you can really say to make the pain of loss go away. The best we can do is just be there for them. If no improvement is shown and things get really bad, consider seeking professional help." One lesson teens can try to take from these tragedies is to remember every time they get behind the wheel, that they don’t want to be a statistic. There are families, friends and a future waiting for them and every one of their passengers.