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Our deepest sympathies go out to all of those who are still reeling from last weekend’s tragic death of a Rockingham teenager in a suspected drunken-driving incident in Putney. The teenager who was driving could face multiple charges in the crash.

In this one instant of poor judgment and reckless behavior, one teenager is dead and another’s life is forever scarred, while countless friends and family members are left to grieve and wonder why. Sadly, they aren’t the first. Folks in the Bellows Falls area dealt with a similar tragedy two years ago when a local teen was killed after the car his friend was driving crashed into a tree. Speed was a factor in that crash.

These local tragedies offer just a glimpse of a national problem.

In 2018, almost 2,500 teens in the United States aged 13–19 were killed, and about 285,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means that every day, about seven teens ages 13–19 died due to motor vehicle crashes, and hundreds more were injured. In addition, fatal and nonfatal motor vehicle crash injuries among teens 13–19 years of age resulted in about $11.8 billion in medical and work loss costs for crashes that occurred in 2018.

The main factors putting teen drivers at risk include inexperience, nighttime and weekend driving, not using seat belts, distracted driving, speeding, and alcohol use. Regarding the latter, a 2019 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that 16.7 percent of U.S high school students rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol at least once during the 30 days before the survey. A 2017 report showed that 24 percent of drivers aged 15–20 who were killed in fatal motor vehicle crashes had been drinking.

Unfortunately, teenagers are notorious for their reckless behavior, mainly because their brains have not developed enough to fully understand the consequences of poor choices, and how dramatically one’s life can be altered in a single moment. So it is up to the adults in their lives to make sure they understand, to keep repeating the message regardless of how many “Yeah, I know” eye-rolls the teen offers up.

If there is one positive takeaway from last weekend’s crash, it’s that it allows us to put a local face to the national statistics and make the message more real and more personal for our local teens. Let’s use this latest tragedy as a cautionary tale to avoid future ones.


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