Memorial Day weekend a dangerous time for teen drivers - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Memorial Day weekend a dangerous time for teen drivers

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This holiday weekend is not only the kickoff to summer, but it's also the start to the '100 deadliest days' for teen drivers.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for 16 to 20 year-old's. 

Learning to drive doesn't only begin behind the wheel but it also starts in the classroom.

Jim Jensen has been teaching driver's education classes for 44 years. Before new drivers get behind the wheel, he says they need to mentally prepare themselves for the responsibility that goes along with operating a heavy piece of machinery.

Jensen says lack of experience and the peer pressure that comes with being a teenager contributes to accidents. He says the physical skills of driving can be learned but he tells his students they need to leave their 'bagitude' behind. If a student is usually an attention-seeker, he tells them to 'baggage' that behavior before they get behind the wheel.

"There's got to be a time that you become a real serious person and when they hit the streets in the cars that's thousands of pounds -- it's a missile, it's a projectile and the car doesn't want to get in a crash. So the lack of awareness and human errors are the number one causes of crashes. So their intelligence is really not the problem. It's that behavior thing. It's that attitude thing. It's the idea that they're invincible," said Jensen.

Heidi Leat is the mother of three children -- all of driving age.

"I worry that they're going to get speeding tickets -- I worry that they're going to get hurt," said Leat.

She says it's not necessarily her kids she's worried about but other drivers.

Leat's 19-year-old daughter Jessica says she was provided with the tools needed to become the confident driver she is today -- driver's education being one of them.

"I thought it was really helpful just because you were in a car with somebody that wasn't your parent and then another peer so it was just easier I think," said Jessica.

Jessica says when she was a new driver, she had to learn how to block out distractions -- like her passengers.

"It was kind of distracting because I just wanted to talk and hang out with them -- like they were having in the car but I really needed to focus because I was still learning. But now it just comes naturally," said Jessica.

Jensen says teenagers often lack the experience and maturity needed to become a good driver.

"They sometimes have this feeling that nothing is ever going to happen to them and that it happens to other people and we certainly want to relay the message that the people that did die or have died might have thought the same way," said Jensen. 

One of the biggest distractions facing new drivers today -- texting.

"You see and hear about all these things on the news about kids texting and driving getting in accidents --  but it's easier to just wait. It's a 10 minute ride max, so it's not that important," said Jessica.

Leat has this tip for parents of new drivers.

"Try to relax because it seems like when you get uptight they get more nervous when you're in the car with them," said Leat.

And what Jensen stresses most to his students --  buckle up.
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