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Keeping teens safe in cars

JourneySafe, a local program dedicated to saving lives by educating teens and their families about the unique risks teens face as both drivers and passengers, held an all-school assembly Oct. 9 at Laguna Beach High School.

Principal Don Austin said the presentation was the most powerful he’d seen in his career.

“While some students participate in illegal at-risk behaviors, all students ride in cars, and the safety of our students ranks as our No. 1 priority," he said.

“I was proud of the high levels of student engagement and self reflection that took place after the presentation."

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Keynote speaker David Sabet, president of the Laguna Beach-based Gillian Sabet Memorial Foundation and founder of JourneySafe, relayed the sobering statistic that car crashes are the leading cause of death among teens, resulting in about 6,000 deaths each year due to driver inexperience and distraction.

JourneySafe is an outreach program created by family and friends of Orange County teens Jill Sabet and Jonathan Schulte, who died May 26, 2005, in a single-vehicle crash.

They were passengers in a friend’s overcrowded car on the way to their junior prom.

“It was no freak accident and no drugs or alcohol were involved," the group’s website says. “Just an instant of distraction in which the young driver looked away from the road searching for a pack of gum, then panicked and lost control of the car."

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Sabet’s program teaches teens five simple strategies they can use to reduce their risk potential and increase survival odds:

1. Buckle up seat belts;

2. Limit passengers (each one increases the risk of a fatal crash by 100%);

3. Distraction kills; help the driver stay focused;

4. Turn off cell phones and don’t text message;

5. Find your voice (speak up if you feel unsafe in a car driven by another person).

Dave Brobeck, English teacher and boys’ cross-country head coach, said his classes were genuinely moved by Sabet’s speech.

“Students were talking about it throughout the day," he said. “The presentation was timely, emotional and practical for teens.

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“Wear a seat belt, turn off the cell phone and limit distracting passengers "” we can all easily do this."

English teacher Janet Steele said she found the assembly sobering and thought-provoking.

“The statistics concerning teen deaths as a result of automobile accidents were alarming. We often associate teen auto accidents with the influence of drugs or alcohol, but we all benefited from the reminder that while driving, we are operating deadly machinery that requires all our focus.

“I was snacking on some dry Cheerios on my way to school Monday and dropped one on the floor of my car. Remembering Friday’s assembly, I didn’t even glance down, avoiding any distraction that might have affected my driving. If such an assembly saves just one life or needless injury, the time was well spent."

The assembly also provided an opportunity for parents and their children to have meaningful discussions about ways to stay safe as both drivers and passengers.

Parent Debbie Naude shared her appreciation of the presentation with the Laguna Beach Unified School District.

“The presentation by JourneySafe changed the atmosphere in our home," she said. “My children were truly awakened to the huge responsibility that comes with driving, carrying passengers and focusing on the road, without the distractions of friends and cell phones. It is wonderful to be part of a community that honestly cares about our kids and their safety."

For more information, visit www.journeysafe.org.

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