By Karen Billing
Beginning in fall 2011, the San Dieguito Union High School District will have a new policy in place requiring that every student who purchases a campus parking permit must go through the Start Smart driving class with their parent or guardian. The class takes driver’s education a step further, really going in-depth about accident avoidance, distracted driving, drunk driving and basic road responsibilities.
When Canyon Crest Academy parent Nancy Kral found out about it, her first reaction was annoyance. It was a two-hour class in the middle of another busy week.
“I just thought it was one more thing that as a parent I had to do, but it was a great program and I was really glad I went,” said Kral. “It made me aware how many bad drivers are out there. It reminds kids that a car can be a dangerous thing and little decisions can change someone’s life forever.”
Classes have been held throughout the year leading up to the fall requirement. Classes will be offered in March, April and May at Torrey Pines and Canyon Crest and more are planned for summer months.
Start Smart is presented by a partnership of the California Highway Patrol, the San Diego County Sheriffs Department and the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth.
The class started in 2010 as a pilot program at San Dieguito Academy after numerous teen car crashes and related fatalities occurred throughout San Diego in 2009, including the deaths of local students Alex Capozza of Torrey Pines and William Wardrip of Santa Fe Christian.
The pilot program was so effective that the district decided to pick it up and make it part of their parking permit requirements.
“Research shows that kids get in more accidents during their first driving years and also kids now have so many distractions,” said Barbara Gordon, Start Smart coordinator.
Distractions like other teens, music, cell phones and texting can be very dangerous, in addition to the obvious problems caused by drugs and alcohol.
“It’s great thing for the parents and students to take this class together because it opens up the opportunity to have that conversation about driving,” Gordon said. “It’s not a right but a privilege to drive.”
Kral said it’s harder to learn to drive these days because on top of all the distractions, there’s more traffic and everybody is in a hurry. She said her daughter had a hard time learning to drive because people were so rude that they wouldn’t let her merge into lanes and closely tailed behind.
Lessons learned in Start Smart class are good reminders for parents, as well.
“Adults should be kinder out on the road, maybe that’s a teen driver, maybe it’s someone who doesn’t know the area,” Kral said. “Pretend it’s your neighbor and have a little patience and kindness on the road.”
Kral said one of the class leaders, CHP Officer Eric Newbury, was very engaging and made the issue of driver safety very personal as he revealed that a drunk driver had killed his father.
“It really hit home with the audience,” Kral said.
Every family leaves with an AAA driving contract, as well as a packet from the California Bar Association that goes over in detail all the laws that pertain to adolescents.
Classes will be held at 6 p.m. at Torrey Pines on March 28 and May 19, with one Saturday class on April 2 at 10 a.m.
There are two remaining classes at Canyon Crest Academy on March 22 and May 25, both at 6 p.m. To register or for more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.