Merced County Times Newspaper
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CHP set to educate high school students on responsible driving


The California Highway Patrol will be offering a free driving education class for teens and their parents at Atwater High School on February 29, 2020, and at Buhach Colony High School on March 7th. The class is only open to enrolled students and requires a parent or guardian to be in attendance. The Start Smart class will focus on distracted driving, DUIs, teach students about obtaining a license, teach safe driving tips, and give information on updated traffic laws.
Learning how to drive has always been an exciting time for teenagers. This milestone is seen by many as the first emergence into one’s adulthood. But, in a time where drivers-ed courses have been cut from high school budgets and collisions and accidents only seem to rise every year the California Highway Patrol recognizes that something must be done as teenagers account for the highest percentage of car collisions.

“The Start Smart program is made for 15 to 19-year-olds,” CHP Public Information Officer, Eric C. Zuniga began. “These are the highest percentage of people who are involved in collisions. They are risk-takers and newly-behind the wheel.”

Zuniga mentioned that too often we hear stories of accidents that could have easily been prevented if drivers had made smarter decisions or if passengers had simply been wearing a seatbelt. Although not entirely preventable, collisions and accidents can be decreased with the right knowledge and training.

The Atwater Police Department is also in support of the Start Smart program and will be providing CHP with access to their school resource officers at Buhach Colony and Atwater High School. Atwater PD sees value in the program as new drivers directly correlate to the safety of the city and its community.

“Unfortunately, traffic accidents are one of the top ten issues here in Atwater,” Chief of Police Michael Salvador, said. “In 2017 we had 364 traffic accidents in the city. That’s basically one a day. In 2019, that number increased. Now, we average over 1 traffic accident a day. If this program can help us reduce the frequency of those accidents then we are all in.”
Community members and organizations have recently united in support of the program citing that too many fatalities have occurred at the hands of negligence.

“There is definitely a need for this in our community,” Nereida Jantz, secretary of the Atwater Chamber of Commerce said. “My daughter just lost a close friend in a car accident a couple of months ago. The death could have been easily prevented if he had been wearing his seatbelt.”

The class will be instructed with experience-driven information. The presentation will also show an impactful video detailing the events of a real-life accident that resulted in the deaths of five teenagers. The Highway Patrol filmed and edited the video for over a year and hope that they can now use a sad experience as a wake-up call to others.

“Teen driving is a topic we don’t talk about much in schools,” Robert Nunes, Atwater High School Principle explained. “We need to remind our kids about the dangers of distracted driving and the responsibilities a driver has when driving in groups.”

The Start Smart class will be held at the Atwater High School gym and the Buhach theater. The classes are set to run from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM. No registration is needed from the students and enrollment is free. CHP is looking to get as many participants as they can as the building they will be using at Atwater High can host up to 400 individuals.

Atwater High School has already made clear that students who attend the class will be granted an extra graduation ticket on top of the ones they receive when graduation rolls around.

At the end of the course, students will be presented with a course completion certificate that they can then use to receive a discount on their car insurance once the student begins driving.

“I wish every high school in Merced County was doing this for their students,” Officer Zuniga concluded.
For more information on the Start Smart program contact the CHP Area office at (209) 356-6608.

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