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El Paso and Teller County students take on safe driving challenge

October 12, 2017 Updated: October 12, 2017 at 7:04 pm
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photo - FILE - Richard Meehan, 16, is seen with his car at his home in Shelton, Conn., Thursday, July 17, 2008. (AP Photo/Bob Child)
FILE - Richard Meehan, 16, is seen with his car at his home in Shelton, Conn., Thursday, July 17, 2008. (AP Photo/Bob Child) 

Five months after two high school seniors died in separate car crashes, student leaders from 29 high schools in El Paso and Teller counties are taking initiative to promote safe teen driving.

"Teen car accident deaths happen unfortunately every year here in our area," said Maile Gray, the executive director of Drive Smart Colorado. "If everyone is a safer driver, it benefits all of us."

The initiative is part of the 29th annual Drive Smart High School Traffic Safety Challenge, which enlists students to create safe-driving programs for their schools.

"We must combat the nationwide epidemic of teenage traffic deaths," said Mayor John Suthers, who spoke at the program's kickoff breakfast Thursday morning. "It is the number one cause of deaths in teens."

On April 14, 2017, Falcon High School senior Michael Finley was killed after being hit by a drunk driver on East Woodmen and Golden Sage roads. One month later, on May 19, 18-year-old Sam Laib died after crashing his car into a tree on Vollmer Road. The senior at Lewis-Palmer High School was speeding and thrown from the car. The Colorado State Patrol said he was not wearing a seat belt.

Drive Smart Colorado aims to prevent deaths such as Finley and Laib's. The student-designed curriculum can include speakers, unannounced seat belt and cell phone checks, pledge campaigns, distracted driving - texting, using social media, changing music, or talking with friends - and driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Alyssa Layman, a senior at Hanover High School in District 28, was a student organizer last year. She and her team put on "six or seven" assemblies that she says resonated with Hanover's student body.

"During the assemblies, it was everything from laughter to emotional moments," Layman said. "But whatever it is, it really gets through to people."

"They were eye-opening for my own experience driving," said Nichole Belcher, a junior at Hanover. "It makes you want to be serious about your personal choices while driving."

New resources this year include a virtual reality simulator that shows students the consequences of distracted driving. Other resources include DUI goggles, presentations by survivors of serious car accidents caused by distracted or impaired driving and a crash response demonstration by Colorado Springs firefighters.

The program will run through Dec. 5. Students from each high school will submit their curricula to Drive Smart Colorado and compete against other schools for a variety of prizes.

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