By Katie Allen
BAKERSFIELD — Driving is the first taste of freedom for many teenagers. But with freedom comes responsibility.
“Car crashes in general are the No. 1 killer of teenagers in America,” said Robert Rodriguez pf the California Highway Patrol.
Each year, the CHP hosts a safe driving event at a Bakersfield school during California Teen Safe Driving Week.
Last week (April 4), the agency teamed with the Bakersfield Police Department and PG&E at Mira Monte High School to urge teens to eliminate distractions behind the wheel. Students were asked to take the pledge to drive phone-free by signing their name on a large banner during the lunchtime event.
Kayla Sanchez, a senior at Mira Monte, said most of her classmates don’t understand the importance of safe driving.
“It could end your life or others, and you don’t want to be the reason why someone else’s or your own life is cut short,” said Sanchez.
Saving lives and reducing damage to critical infrastructure is a top priority for PG&E. The company is working to drive awareness of the dangers of distracted driving as part of Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April.
“Distracted driving is 100 percent preventable,” said John Higgins, senior vice president of Safety and Health for PG&E. “Unfortunately, it is also a serious public health threat and it compromises our ability to provide safe and reliable service to the communities that we serve.”
Last year in Kern County, car accidents involving PG&E facilities caused 143 outages impacting more than 40,000 customers. It’s estimated that 80 percent of all accidents involve some form of distracted driving. These outages can interrupt electric service to important facilities such as hospitals, schools and traffic lights.
According to the CHP, 85 Californians died in crashes last year as a result of distracted driving — in other words, avoidable collisions.
“It is very dangerous for those people who do decide to go out and drive distracted or drive reckless,” Rodriguez said. “You’re really raising the stakes when it comes to getting involved in a crash.”
Rodriquez, who organizes the annual safety presentations, was proud to see the once blank white banner full of signatures at the end of the event. All names of teens who pledge to change their behaviors behind the wheel, not just in the month of April, but year-round.
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