California Enhances Driver Ed Programs with Words and Photos in Start Smart Initiative

California Drivers ed programs are a lot like those in other states, with students learning the rules of the road and how to drive safely before they obtain their permit and eventually their license. This spring marks the annual "Start Smart" program sponsored by the state Highway Patrol, an event designed to bring the issues of dangerous driving into graphic relief through the stories of victims' families and videos of accident scenes.

Troopers showed images of teen drivers and passengers who had gotten involved in severe accidents because of poor decision-making to shocked students in auditoriums throughout the state. It principally focuses on the effects of drunk driving, an issue that the CHP says is especially affecting considering the prom and graduation events.

Students were also able to hear from the families of victims who were displayed in the photos, often with their bodies covered by a tarp. "It's difficult to look at it every time, but if I can get through to someone anybody, anytime, anywhere, I'll show the picture," Fred Forgone said of talking when he could see a picture of his lifeless 16 year-old daughter. She lost her life in 2002 in a crash and Forgone told tv station KSBW that he talks to teens so that it doesn't happen to other families.

It's a concern in California where surveys show that about five to seven percent more teens are considered a "heavy drinkers," numbers that are even higher in areas like Santa Cruz.

Combined with driver education programs that talk about the data behind drunk driving and its effect on increasing crashes, students say that the effort brings the numbers to life. "Sometimes parents talk about things that don't happen anymore," high school freshman Jessica Ramirez told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. "But I have heard it can be a problem, that you die from drinking and cannot know what you are doing."

Other states and especially local schools generally have similar movies and guest speakers, but some in California say that the reason it's so effective is that local people add a sense of authority that can sometimes be difficult to develop with teenagers in high school.

If you don't live near one of the programs, there are enough articles online and speeches on Youtube and other sites that you could put together one or two and share them with your teen driver. While an online driving school can help to provide a sense of how things go wrong, young people have said time and again that images and stories help to drive those points home.

Drunk driving also affects parents and other adults, too. If you want to make a statement about how important you think it is, attend the events with them. It may just give you some strategies to keep a co-worker who's had too much from driving home from a Christmas party or 4th of July party if they've had too much to imbibe.