By Casey Peacock: PNT Staff Writer
Recent accidents in Roosevelt and Curry counties and Parmer County in Texas have taken the lives of five individuals under the age of 22, and have caused concern for area law enforcement officials.
While the cause of those accidents is not yet known, drinking and high rates of speed are often the most common factors in accidents involving young people, according to law enforcement officials.
According to a story on the USA Today Web site, 10 teenagers die on average every day in teen-driven vehicle accidents in the United States.
Statistics from the Tell-My-Mom.com Web site show that 68,000 teens have died over the past decade in car crashes, and that teens account for 18 percent of drivers involved in accidents reported by police officers.
“It all begins with human error, and starts off with a series of bad decisions,” said Curry County Sheriff Roger Hatcher.
“Part of the problem with teen drivers is they are not taking responsibility for their actions,” Hatcher said. “Another problem is parents not teaching their teens responsibility or forcing them to face the consequences for their actions.”
Another major cause of teen-related crashes is the use of cell phones, either trying to talk on them or texting someone while driving, said Lt. Rick Anglada, New Mexico State Police public information officer.
“Crashes are caused by someone’s actions or inactions —accidents are an unwanted event,” said Anglada. “Taking their eyes off the road for even two seconds can cause an accident.”
Other factors that Anglada says contribute to fatal or serious teen crashes are traveling at high rates of speed and not wearing seatbelts.
“Teens don’t realize the faster you go, the longer it takes to stop,” said Anglada.
Anglada feels many teens may be reluctant to wear seatbelts because they may feel it will cramp their style. He also says teens often have a “nothing can or will happen to me” attitude. He believes many deaths could have been prevented if victims had been wearing seatbelts.
Anglada also stated that officers issue citations to teen drivers not to pick on them, but to help them change their driving habits and save lives because they care.
According to Anglada and Hatcher, there are programs at the local and state level designed to help prevent more crashes and fatalities. One of the most popular is the 15-minute mock accident scene conducted at high schools across the state, according to Angalda. It’s a lesson to show teens what can happen in the event of a crash, he said.
DWI chapters across the state provide funding for the officers to help put on these programs, Anglada said.
Vehicular homicide causing someone’s death, either by reckless driving or DWI, can result in a teen being sentenced to three years incarceration in a correctional facility, said Anglada.
“It’s devastating to people,” said Hatcher. “You can’t even comprehend what it does to the families and friends of these kids.”