LITTLEROCK – Various video clips showed mangled, contorted bodies inside twisted wreckage at collision scenes so gruesome that some students had to look away, and parents cringed in their seats. The graphic images were necessary, said California Highway Patrol officers, to drive home the most important message of the Start Smart Class — It could happen to you!
“It can happen and it does happen,” CHP Officer Abel Hernandez told the teenagers. “Kids are getting killed… and that’s why this program was implemented.”
CHP Officers Abel Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez and Senior Volunteer Dave Richards made up the team that conducted the Start Smart class Wednesday evening at Littlerock High School, a free interactive driver safety class for teens and their parents aimed at reducing the number of teens killed and injured on the state’s roadways through education.
Littlerock High School is the first school in the Antelope Valley to host the Start Smart class and the CHP is hoping that other schools will soon follow.
Coincidentally, directly across the street from Littlerock High School is where 13-year-old Christopher Tovar was killed on Oct. 18 in a car driven by his brother, 18-year-old Gerardo Tovar.
“That 18-year-old brother will never be the same because he killed his 13-year-old brother,” Gilbert Hernandez told the group. “That is going to tear that family apart.”
Wednesday’s Start Smart class did not take place as a result of that vehicle collision, said Abel Hernandez. The class was scheduled to happen before the incident took place. However, officers said those types of collisions are more common that one might think. They said 65% of teen passenger deaths occur when another teen is driving, and collision fatalities in the 15 to 19 age group are higher than any other age group.
Several topics were covered in detail during the two-hour class, including the mechanics of driving, defensive driving, the importance of seatbelts, and the importance of not texting and driving.
Graphic videos along with first hand accounts from the officers were also used as a means of illustrating the lessons.
CHP Senior Volunteer Dave Richards gave a first hand account of his story, a tragic event that shook his life 20 years ago when a motorcycle collision claimed the life of his 18-year-old son Jason, just two weeks before he would graduate high school.
“The police report said he was going about 70 miles an hour in a 35-mile-an-hour zone,” said Richards. “He’s going so fast, he has no time to stop, he hits this car and flew hundreds of feet down the street.”
Richards said his son died of massive head injuries five days later.
“It never goes away when you lose a child,” Richards said, directing his message to the parents. “We want you guys to carry on our message to the kids after you take them home with you, because they will forget all about us, but we are deputizing you guys to keep the message going after you get home.”
Also, sending a message, this one to the teenagers, was Abel Hernandez’ daughter, Tanya.
“You can really prevent a lot of things from happening as long as you just know what you’re doing and know what’s going on in your car,” said Tanya Hernandez. “A good driver is one that knows what he or she is doing, knows everything in the car, and follows all the rules, but a safe driver is one that pays attention to everything, both in and outside of the vehicle.”
Officers said teens need to pay attention to the common factors that lead to vehicle collisions, including following too closely, unsafe lane changes, inattention, drowsy driving, peer pressure and the number one cause of accident collisions – unsafe speeds.
“When you start driving, the possibility for this to happen is going to be there,” Gilbert Hernandez said, referencing the accident scene footage. “It is going to be up to you to minimize that possibility.”
Many parents said the class was extremely informative for the teens, as well as adults.
“I learned a lot in this class, and I’m glad she took the class” said Rosemary Navarro of her daughter Monica. “I’m always on her about these same things, and now she gets to see it with the video and everything.”
“It taught me a lot about what to do and what not to do,” said Monica Navarro, who is getting her license in about a week. “I’m going to watch what I do more and be aware of what to look for.”
For 15-year-old Amanda Parra, the Start Smart class was a lot to handle.
“The scenes were a bit too graphic with the broken bones and everything,” she said. “But when I start driving I will be driving very, very carefully.”
Parents and teenagers can sign up for the next “Start Smart” class by contacting the Antelope Valley Area CHP office at (661) 948-8541.
The video below, a PSA on texting and driving, was shown during the Start Smart class. Many of the other video clips shown at the class were of graphic, real-life accident scenes.