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News / Clark County News

Statewide initiative aimed at teen drivers: ‘Your life is just beginning’

Target Zero program aims to reduce the total number of traffic fatalities in Washington to zero by 2030

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: June 22, 2024, 6:05am

June through September are the most dangerous months for traffic fatalities in Washington, especially among young drivers. With school out for summer, state traffic officials are urging caution for teen drivers hitting the road.

In 2021, Clark County saw nine traffic fatalities among people between the ages of 15 and 20, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. That number shrunk to four fatalities in the same age group in both 2022 and 2023.

While the trend is moving in the right direction, the latest number is still too high, said Jesamie Peters of the Traffic Safety Commission.

“Four is too many,” she said. “When you think about it, what’s the appropriate number of deaths? It’s a resounding zero.”

Peters oversees Clark and Skamania counties’ Target Zero program — a statewide initiative aimed at reducing the total number of traffic fatalities in Washington to zero by 2030. A major piece of the initiative’s ambitious goal starts in the classroom, Peters said.

“Some of our messaging is that your life is just beginning,” she said. “You’ve made some positive choices in your life so far, and we want to make sure safe driving is a part of that.”

The commission is hoping to partner with school districts across the state next school year to teach students about safe driving habits as early as middle school using a program called Teens in the Driver Seat. Peters said the lessons help teens understand risk factors not only as drivers, but also as passengers.

“It’s important to learn how to not be a distraction to drivers,” she said. Doing things like offering to change the radio or send a text can help keep the driver focused on the road. “Another thing we like to encourage is to speak up when you feel unsafe or if someone is speeding.”

Data released last month by national driver’s education provider Zutobi said speeding was the leading cause of fatal crashes involving teenagers in Washington in 2022.

In Clark County, about half of all traffic fatalities among drivers and passengers ages 15 to 20 since 2014 have involved a driver who was either speeding or impaired or both.

Peters said the classroom programs also introduce students to a mobile app called You in the Driver Seat that can provide users incentives, such as cash prizes and gift cards, for successfully recording safe trips.

“The mindset begins in our own families, sharing and modeling safe driving,” she said. “Eventually, we can shift as a culture to actually believing that zero fatal traffic (crashes) is possible for Washington.”

More information about the Target Zero initiative can be found on the program’s website at targetzero.com.

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