Drive-Smart Colorado

Sierra High School

senior Daijah Peregrina, left, tries out a portable driving simulator

being run by Maile Gray, right, executive director of DriveSmart Colorado

, on Tuesday at the Colorado Springs

school

.

Sierra High School senior Daijah Peregrina spends a lot of time and energy working on an annual safe-driving challenge because she doesn’t want to hear the words, “We lost a student to distracted driving.”

“We want students to be safe,” she said, adding that she was in a car that was rear-ended last year and knows how awful it is to be involved in an accident.

Sierra High put so much effort into the initiative to promote seat-belt usage and prevent behaviors such as texting while driving that students won “Best Distracted Driving Campaign” among medium-sized schools in last year’s High School Traffic Safety Challenge.

“We did a good presentation last year,” said 18-year-old Ramsey Whitaker, a senior. “We made the examples realistic,” such as a teen girl being distracted because she was upset by a boy but still got behind the wheel and drove.

In 2017, Sierra High, which has about 800 students, recorded the highest seat-belt usage — 95% buckle rate — among participating medium-sized high schools.

“That’s an incredible buckle rate,” said Maile Gray, executive director of DriveSmart Colorado. The organization runs the challenge and is the nation’s largest and oldest traffic safety education program.

“Teens are notorious for not wearing their seat belts,” Gray said.

But in the Pikes Peak region, students have responded well to the challenge, she said, with seat belt usage among teens trending in the high 80s percentile.

The statewide average for all drivers had been in the 81% to 82% range, she said. But now, it’s 88% statewide among all drivers, which Gray attributes in part to student drivers promoting the initiative.

This year’s High School Traffic Safety Challenge, a seven-week competition, kicks off Thursday with a 7 a.m. breakfast at the DoubleTree Hotel in Colorado Springs. More than 150 teens representing 28 schools in the Pikes Peak region will compete in the 31st annual challenge, Gray said.

The challenge involves students at different schools arranging driving-related presentations from guest speakers, organizing art, writing and video contests and doing the popular unannounced seat belt and cellphone checks.

Under the peer-to-peer program, Sierra students position themselves in the parking lot and look to see if classmates are wearing seat belts and using cellphones while driving.

“If we see something, we let them know to use their seat belts and not use their phones,” Ramsey said.

“There’s been a few teachers that’ll stand out there and yell at us,” Daijah said.

Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accounting for more than one-third of teen deaths.

And Colorado Springs ranks as the 16th worst city for drivers in the nation, according to a study released Monday from QuoteWizard. Data analyzed included motor vehicle accidents, speeding tickets, traffic citations and DUIs.

Using simulation goggles, Sierra students demonstrated Tuesday how difficult it is to stay on the road while texting or feeling drowsy.

The five seconds it takes on average to text is like everything pertaining to the road going black, students said.

“It demonstrates what distracted driving is like and what could happen in a moment,” Daijah said.

State Farm Insurance donated $25,000 to pay for challenge-related expenses for participating schools.

“This is a very impactful thing,” said Sierra senior Sherly Ramirez. “Sierra is like a family to me — I’ve been here all four years, and my siblings have gone here. I want my family to be safe.”

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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