Organizations advocate for safe driving among teens in rural areas

Organizations advocate for safe driving among teens in rural areas

On July 12, 2015, Isabelle Boullier's sister Kyra was on her way to finish off her 17th birthday with her best friend. Just 10 minutes after leaving the house, her mother received a call that no parent would want to endure.

Her mom had been informed that her sister and her friend were in a car accident. As she and her siblings waited to hear back from their parents, it was disclosed on live television that the accident was caused by the other car. A young woman had been heavily under the influence of alcohol and other drugs.

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She had crossed the white line, side-swiped the car in front of her sister, and then struck her sister’s car head-on. The woman was wanted in three jurisdictions and was double the BAC limit.

"While everyone survived, it was not without injury, and certainly not without a ripple effect that impacted the entire community," Boullier said. 

Being 13 years old, the accident shaped her outlook on safe driving habits and a variety of other topics that she recognizes as unhealthy habits.

Boullier also thanks her parents for being fantastic role models with safe driving, advocating for safer roadways. "My mom was the driving force behind our advocacy work. I knew that I wanted to be educated and to educate others while promoting healthy habits for my peers."

Now at 19, Boullier has educated herself on the dangers of impaired driving, followed by distracted driving. She thinks her 13-year-old self would be proud to see her now, holding up to the promises she made to help others when she got older.

After her sister's car crash and recovery, her family hit the ground running to start learning more about impaired driving and dangerous driving habits so they can educate others on the importance of safe driving.

Currently, she has two PSAs on child safety, and underage drinking and impaired driving. "Soon enough, I became the Students Against Destructive Decisions National President, where I could share my sister's story and continue to work towards creating safer roads in honor of her and all those affected by impaired driving and motor vehicle collisions."

Motor vehicle accidents or fatalities can happen at any moment but advocates at the Students Against Destructive Desicions like Boullier understand the seasonal risks associated.

Read more: Randolph County family pursue safer road conditions asking officials 'what steps will you take?'

Summer not only brings an increase in travel for students but an increase in risky behavior that can contribute to unsafe driving. The increase in social activity can lead to various forms of impaired driving, including drugged, distracted, drunk, and drowsy in North Carolina communities including Randolph and Davidson Counties.

The celebration of reuniting with friends and family and leaving homes over the summer can mentally distract drivers from paying attention to the road, particularly when riding with others. 

Data shows that in 2019, Randolph County had 3,432 motor vehicle crashes. 750 of those were teen crashes. The same year reflected 25.8% of motor vehicle fatalities in the county were alcohol-related.

The state Division of Motor Vehicles further estimates there is a motor vehicle crash in the county every two hours.

According to the NC Governor's Highway Safety Program, a resource dedicated to reducing the numbers of accidents and fatalities, reported between 2014 to 2018, over two percent of all 16 to 20-year-old Randolph drivers were involved in a fatal crash. Between 2014-2018, young drivers were involved in fatal crashes at a rate of 3.57 per 10,000 people locally.

Over 30 minutes away, Davidson County has 3,633 crashes in 2019. Out of the total, 720 were teen crashes. The DMV estimates there is a motor vehicle crash in the county every 1.8 hours.

Between 2014 to 2018, the area reflected 2.71% of all 16 to 20-year-old Davidson drivers who were involved in a fatal crash. Young drivers were also involved in fatal crashes at a rate of 4.28 per 10,000 people in the county.

Youth organizations such as Students Against Destructio Decisions are educating teens this summer on safe driving practices. Aaron Medina, North Carolina State Coordinator and Program Manager, said that rural roads provide unique dangers, despite less traffic.

Under the state fiscal year 2021 Highway Safety Plan Annual Report, 36% of crashes occur on rural roads. Impaired driving and speeding on rural roads greatly increase the risk of driving, according to the report.  

To combat these accidents, the organization offers a safe and positive peer-to-peer community to encourage healthy decision-making. The organization created the #RocktheBelt program after a 2019 NC DMV Crash Report that reported 47% of teen motor vehicle fatalities were unbelted. Under the initiative, designed to increase seat belt usage and safety awareness, youth were able to form better motor vehicle habits.

"This summer, SADD is sharing our 'Passport to Safe Driving,' a toolkit designed to help teen drivers and their parents and guardians learn proper driver safety," Medina said. "This toolkit includes critical data and conversation tips to help parents engage their new or learning drivers to maintain safe driving behaviors, such as not texting while driving."

Medina advises new teen drivers to use the toolkit and advocate for their safety. Here are a few other tips to consider when driving. 

During his time in the organization, he heard the common misconception among teen drivers that "it will not happen to me." Medina believes that mentality is what leads young people into risky behaviors, despite being aware of the risks. 

"Every trip spent texting while driving, speeding, or driving impaired without incident can reinforce that they can handle the risks. But no one is invincible," Medina said.

As summer continues, organizations will continue to educate that driving has consequences, and often it is not just the driver who is impacted.

Petruce Jean-Charles is a Government Watchdog Reporter. They are interested in what's going on in the community and are open to tips on people, businesses and issues. Contact Petruce at pjeancharles@gannett.com and follow @PetruceKetsia on Twitter.