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Hall sees fewer teens in fatal car wrecks
Countys numbers for the last 5 years mirrors federal report
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Check out Advance4Kids the Hall County Sheriff’s Office program designed to help teen drivers, including a video of the Fatal Vision simulation of a fatal car crash.

Fatal car crashes with teen drivers fell dramatically during the past five years, according to a new federal report, and Hall County numbers show the same trend.

Nationally, the number of deaths dropped from about 2,200 in 2004 to 1,400 in 2008, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, which tracked accidents with drivers who were 16 or 17. There were more than 9,600 teen crashes during the five-year span, and more than 11,000 people died in the crashes.

“In general, crashes have been steadily decreasing each year,” said Sgt. Dale Cash, commander of Gainesville Police Department’s traffic division. “There are several reasons for that. We’ve been actively enforcing seat belt violations and child restraint violations, and more people are getting the message that impaired driving is not safe.”

From 2007 to 2008, the total number of crashes in Gainesville decreased 8 percent. From 2008 to 2009, crashes decreased 8 percent again, and Cash expects a similar amount for this year. The division doesn’t directly track teen crashes.

“We’re looking at our stop signs and red lights, as well as speeding and following too closely. It’s a total effort to look at anything that would be a hazard to the motoring public,” Cash said. “A few less folks are on the roadways, and there’s been a steady decline over the years of people who cruise around at night. A lot of things contribute to the drop, and we’ll keep doing what we’re doing.”

The rate of these fatal crashes has been declining since 1996. CDC officials credit a range of factors, including safer cars with airbags and highway improvements.

But experts say a chief reason is that most states have been getting tougher, curbing when teens can drive and when they can carry passengers.

“It’s not that teens are becoming safer,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an Arlington, Va.-based research group funded by auto insurance companies. “It’s that state laws enacted in the last 15 years are taking teens out of the most hazardous driving situations,” such as driving at night or with other teens in the car.

Driver’s licensing programs began appearing in 1996 and now 49 states have them. Some are more restrictive than others, which may be one reason why death rates vary by state, Rader said.

The CDC found that Wyoming had the highest death rate, with about 60 traffic fatalities involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers per 100,000 people that age. New York and New Jersey, which have rigorous driving restrictions on teens, had the lowest rates, at about 10 per 100,000.

Georgia falls in the lower end, with about 29 per 100,000.

These driver’s license programs are particularly effective in schools, where Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputies teach students about road signs, defensive driving and driving under the influence.

“One of the big things we’ve talked about this year is when driving, you don’t need to text message,” said Lt. Gene Joy, who helps to run the school programs. “That’s one of things we’ve seen over the last year around the nation. You can’t safely operate a vehicle and text at the same time because you take your eyes of the road.”

After seeing the large number of teen crashes, Hall County Sheriff’s officials decided to start a driver program and became the he second law enforcement agency in the state to start a full teen driver program certified by the Georgia Department of Driver Services.

Deputies began teaching classes in 2008, with four classes at North Hall High School for residents in the northern part of the county and four classes at West Hall High School for teens in the southern part of the county.

“We took it very seriously and looked at it in two phases — one as being heavier enforcement and the second, and most important, was education,” said Col. Jeff Strickland. “We give teens the knowledge and education to understand safe driving techniques.”

The sheriff’s office also started a program called Fatal Vision, which simulates a fatal crash that involves officers and paramedics.

“We bring in a LifeFlight helicopter, and the end of the scenario involves a fatality with the Grim Reaper and a hearse,” Strickland said. “We did that in every high school. We do a great deal in this area to talk about speeding and DUI drivers. It makes an impact.”

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