Traffic safety advocates hold interactive teen driver safety event in Roanoke

fhwaMotor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States. Six teens (16 to 19 years old) die every day from motor vehicle injuries in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention  and per mile driven, teen drivers are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.

In Virginia, from 2012-2015, a total of 252 teens (16-19 years old) perished in car crashes. During that same period, 29,480 teens were injured in motor vehicle crashes. Just this year, through September, 30 precious young lives tragically ended on Virginia roadways (Department of Motor Vehicles).

Today, in an effort to reduce senseless injuries and deaths on Virginia roadways, multiple safety experts will host close to 300 southwest Virginia high school students, for an in an interactive teen driver safety event at Berglund Center. The event is being held by The Blue Ridge Transportation Safety Board, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Roanoke County Police Department, and AAA Mid-Atlantic (AAA). The event is sponsored by the Appalachian Power Company and AAA and is in honor of National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) – Teen Driver Safety week.

The event, modeled in part after several previously successful events in Blacksburg and Richmond, drives home key safety messages in interactive ways that cannot be accomplished in a classroom setting.  From exploding air bags and a “convincing” seat belt sled to live 18-wheeler blind spot demonstrations and more, the seven interactive activities are designed to impact new teen drivers in a way that will make them think about safety before driving or getting in the car with others. “The goal of today’s event is to positively impact the attitudes and behaviors of inexperienced teen drivers, before unsafe actions behind the wheel become habitual,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager Public and Government Relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Roanoke County police see the impacts of tragic vehicle crashes first hand, thus working with local teens to educate them on how to be as safe as possible behind the wheel, gives them an opportunity to make a positive difference, interact with impressionable teens in an encouraging way and to help reduce injuries and deaths on local roadways. “In 2015, fatalities involving young drivers (ages 16-20) increased 10% across our country. This event is an effort to help young drivers learn to drive safely and avoid injury while having a positive and “hands-on” experience with police officers and safety advocates,” noted Roanoke County Police Chief, Howard B. Hall.

Seat belt usage is of particular concern in more rural areas of Virginia, like Roanoke County, where it is known to be lower than in other parts of the commonwealth. Buckling up, however, reduces serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half. “If teens could come away from this event convinced that wearing their seatbelt is critical and make the important decision to buckle-up every time they get into a car, just that one change will likely save lives,” added Chief Hall. “When one person in the car buckles up, they often encourage everyone else in the car to do the same.”

Research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute shows that the key risks facing teen drivers include driver distraction, hard braking and cornering, speeding, and nighttime driving.  Additionally, analyses of teen driver crash rates in Virginia has shown that Roanoke and New River Valleys have one of the highest teen crash rates in the state.  “The extraordinarily high teen crash rates are unacceptable and it is our core mission to save lives.  We believe that we can reduce these high crash rates through education, engineering, and enforcement for all of the risks that face teen drivers.  Events like this teen event integrate all three of these areas and we are proud to be a part of the team that is making this happen for our area teen drivers.” Dr. Charlie Klauer, Lead, Teen Risk and Injury Prevention Group Research Scientist, “

During the four-hour training session, students will rotate through seven unique stations which focus on the most important aspects of safe driving and the key issues that need to be addressed with inexperienced drivers. Topics covered include: Distracted Driving, Impaired Driving, Seat belt usage/Air bags, Rollovers, Work Zones, Big Rig Blind Spots and more.

In addition to holding the event today, transportation safety advocates urge parents of teen drivers to remain engaged with their teens, not just when they are learning to drive, but to also monitor their child’s driving behaviors and their ability to make safe decisions regarding motor vehicle safety. “Parents are encouraged to utilize a parent-teen driving agreement that includes strict rules related to risky driving behaviors and passenger limits. Consequences of violations should be spelled out and enforced without fail,” added Martha Meade from AAA. Teens whose parents set firm rules for driving typically engage in less risky driving behaviors and are involved in fewer crashes. (AAA’s Keys2Drive (aaa.com/teendriving) website offers a variety of tools to help prepare teens and their parents as well as links to Virginia teen driving laws.)

Joining the lead organizations the following organizations have provided expertise, staffing, demonstrations and a variety of other contributions which made the event possible:  American Trucking Association – America’s Road Team, Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education/ “IDrive mobile unit,  Roanoke County Sheriff’s Department, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV),  Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Virginia State Police, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Youth of Virginia Speak Out (YOVASO). Berglund Center is also assisting with the event.

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