Fewer Eagle County teens dying in car crashes | VailDaily.com
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Fewer Eagle County teens dying in car crashes

Steve Lynn
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Jessie Santoro only remembers walking into her garage to get into her Honda Accord before the accident that injured her brain.

Santoro was driving around 75 miles per hour, going east on Interstate 70 and talking to a friend on her cell phone May 16.

Her friend later told her that she heard Santoro screaming until the line went dead.

So Santoro has given around a dozen lectures to middle and high school students about the importance of wearing seat belts, going the speed limit or slower and driving without distractions. She never wants anyone else to go through what she has experienced, she said.

“I lived through it and there’s a reason for that,” she said.

Santoro and others are working to decrease car crashes involving teens in Eagle County.

Safe driving programs for teens and parents have decreased deaths of teens through the years along with stricter laws and enforcement of the state’s seat belt law, according to the Colorado State Patrol said.

Three teenagers ” a driver, passenger and pedestrian ” died on Eagle County roads in 2006. Two teens, a driver and passenger, died in 2007. No teens have died on Eagle County roads so far this year.

The number of Colorado teens and young adults killed in crashes dropped 34 percent in 2007 from 2006, according to the State Patrol. In 2006, 66 drivers and passengers ages 16 to 20, were killed in crashes. Forty-three teens were killed in crashes in 2007.

Colorado teen deaths are also are down 60 percent from a high of 107 teens killed in 2002.

Cpl. Dennis Gibbons of the State Patrol has been giving lectures to students in Eagle County high schools about safe driving for several years. The No. 1 cause of death for teenagers in Eagle County is car crashes.

As with other age groups, icy roads are the No. 1 cause of crashes for teens, who lack the experience to know to slow down on icy roads, Gibbons said.

But once they have driven more than 1,000 miles or more than six months, their chances of crashing drop dramatically, he said.

“Experience does count,” he said.

Pam Beaudin looks forward to when her 17-year-old stepson, Brad, will take a driver’s education course in Eagle County.

Brad is a good driver, but needs more experience, she said.

“You can never have too much experience when it comes to driving,” said Beaudin, of Edwards.

Lack of experience among teen drivers is one of the reasons Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy and Linda Hill, both of the Edwards Rotary Club, are bringing a drivers education program to Eagle County Airport.

Eagle County lacks behind-the-wheel driving instruction, Hill and Hoy said.

“There’s nothing really hands-on up here that the kids can tap into,” Hoy said.

The one-day program will teach Eagle County teens how to drive on wet and dry pavement, how to brake during emergencies, and how to steer out of a skid, Hoy said.

Students will use their own cars so that they can learn how their cars react in different situations, he said.

With icy roads and a 75-mile-per-hour speed limit on curvy Interstate 70 through Eagle County, Hill hopes that the program gives more experience to teen drivers.

“This is just a great program that will give kids an affordable way to get more time behind the wheel with instruction, which will hopefully reduce the level of accidents,” she said.

If there’s enough interest, Hill would like to hold the class four days a year in the fall and spring, with 40 different students enrolled each day, she said.

Pam Beaudin plans to be an instructor for the program in the coming years.

“Safer streets for everybody is a good thing,” she said.

Santoro’s accident happened when a semi either drifted into her lane or side-swiped her ” authorities don’t know which, she said. Her car rolled twice until it landed in the west lanes near Gypsum, according to the State Patrol.

She was taken to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and later was flown by helicopter to a Denver hospital. She broke her wrist, some ribs and collapsed a lung.

The most serious of her injuries was moderate traumatic brain injury that has improved somewhat, but may always plague her to some degree, she said.

Santoro has a bad short-term memory and sometimes forgets what she’s saying mid-sentence, she said.

She also has trouble with vocabulary, she said.

When students see that during her safe-driving presentations, they really pay attention, she said.

“Everyone tunes in because suddenly it becomes real,” she said.

“I think people need to see that because everyone else thinks it won’t happen to me.”

Tire Rack Street Survival Program, sponsored by the Edwards Rotary Club, takes place April 26 at the Vail Valley Jet Center. It is open to students age 16 to 21 and costs $60, though half the fee will be refunded when the class is completed.

Students interested in enrolling can go to: http://www.streetsurvival.org/school-schedule.php and click on Eagle County Regional Airport link for details and forms to complete.

Adults interested in training to become instructors can contact Linda Hill at Linda@hillncompany.com or Joe Hoy at joseph.hoy@eaglecounty.us.

Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or slynn@vaildaily.com.


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