School parking lots pose danger for teen drivers

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As local teens return to high schools for a fresh start this fall, many are driving to campus for the first time.

I recall when I first got a student-parking space at Corona del Sol High School – the thrill of being able to drive to campus was quickly extinguished by the anxiety of navigating through a stop-and-go maze of mostly inexperienced drivers for the first time.

The scene can be overwhelming for new drivers, not to mention one that’s bumper-to-bumper with moving obstacles as the morning bell rings for classes. It’s no wonder the school parking lot is the most dangerous place for teen drivers.

“School is getting ready to reconvene and, from my experience, the most dangerous place for a teen driver is in the school parking lot,” State Farm Insurance Agent Mary Contreras said. “The students’ safety in the school parking lot is a big deal right now.”

With a few helpful tips and the right preparation, teens can drastically decrease their chances of getting in an accident. Identifying pedestrians and staying below 5 mph can make a huge difference.

“I want teens to watch out for bicyclists and pedestrians,” Contreras said. “Giving that right-of-way to bicyclists is a hard thing for teens to realize, especially if the bicyclist is coming up from behind.”

School parking lots also can be particularly hazardous later in the year, during finals, when students spend hours nightly cramming for exams.

“Being awake for 18 hours equals the blood-alcohol concentration of .08 – you’re reactions are that much slower,” Contreras said. “Teens are focusing on the thrill of their new driving freedom; there are many distractions they don’t consider.”

Contreras has three requirements she asks parents to enforce for teen drivers: No radio, no passengers and shut the cell phone off (don’t just put it on vibrate). A cell phone is an important tool to have if you’re involved in a wreck, but it needs to be turned off while driving to prevent distractions.

“For 15 to 16 years of your life, your responsibilities in a car are much different,” Contreras said. “You actually have to rewire your brain when you first get behind the wheel.”

In many cases, parental involvement is vital to keeping children safe behind the wheel.

“It’s really important for parents to be actively involved in their teen’s driver education,” Contreras said. “Sometimes, it’s hard for us to back-peddle and remember our own challenges of driving for the first time.”

Local high schools provide students with driver education classes, but a handful of other programs are available in Tempe and Chandler.

“I see fewer kids taking driving education classes,” Contreras said. “Parents are relying on the high school’s Driver Ed programs, but those are so full, it’s really hard for the kids to get everything they need.”

Contreras recommends a local driver’s education program called Driving MBA, which utilizes simulators that tilt with real-life movements.

“They have a cockpit simulator program,” Contreras said. “Students experience what it really feels like to get a flat tire or drive on icy roads, so they can anticipate what the real-life experience will be like.”

Driving MBA can be reached at (480) 948-1248.

What to do in an accident

Hopefully, teens will go through their lives without being involved in a collision. Most, however, are likely to be involved in at least one car wreck. That first wreck can be a scary situation and knowing what to do and what questions to ask can make lives a whole lot easier.

“If you know what questions to ask, and be organized at the scene, you’re going to be all-the-better and less likely to be bullied at the scene of an accident,” Contreras said.

First of all, always have a secure location in your car where you can find your registration and insurance. Notify police immediately, don’t admit liability and write down names of drivers involved, their addresses and license numbers. Try to write down the license plate number, in case the driver leaves the scene.

Remember to take note of any witness of the accident, especially if it occurred in the school parking lot.

“In parking lots, police won’t come to the scene, so identifying the witnesses is important,” Contreras said. “Don’t use people in your car as witnesses, because they are impartial.”

Lastly, call whoever your insurance agent is immediately and notify them of the incident, Contreras said. Getting the other driver’s insurance agent and policy number will ease the relationship between your agent and theirs.

“You want to do anything you can do to ease the situation—this isn’t a videogame,” Contreras said. “The consequences are permanent.”

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