Keep topic of car safety alive — especially for the teens


On Saturday Oct 10, 2009, the front page of the San Diego Union reported that the risk of death in a car crash had dropped significantly. It stated that the risk of dying in a traffic accident had dropped 18 percent since 2005. The improvement was attributed to:

•Fewer people driving because of the recession

•Seatbelt use at a record 84 percent

•Better airbag and braking systems

•Teen license restrictions

The article went on to state that in the first half of 2009, there were 17,000 traffic fatalities in the U.S.

So that’s the big picture. Let us tell you the stories of two teenagers, Courtney and Alex. We would be willing to bet that many of you have similar stories.

Courtney was our 19-year-old daughter three years ago when we got a call from a police officer at 4 a.m. It was a few days after Christmas and Courtney had been home from college for the holidays. Courtney, being more of a worker than a partier, had taken a job over the break working the late shift at Starbucks. After work she joined some friends at a house in Rancho Santa Fe for a dip in the Jacuzzi.

It seems they got hungry, so Courtney jumped in a convertible another kid was driving and they went for a one-mile ride to an all-night Mexican food place. At the restaurant, they picked up burritos. Driving home they decided it was too cold and they should put the top up on the boy’s grandfather’s Mercedes. On that one-mile drive back to the house, the boy lost control of the car and struck a utility pole. The car went off the side of the road, rolled down a 30-foot embankment, flipping three times on the way down. The temperature was in the 40s as Courtney climbed up the embankment and waited for over an hour for help. The police officer told us that the kids were lucky to be alive. They had their seatbelts on, the airbags engaged, and although the driver was trapped in the vehicle, he suffered only minor neck injuries and a concussion. Courtney walked away from the horrible nightmare very shaken but with only minor scrapes and bruises and indentations where her seatbelt had restrained her.

Alex was not so lucky. Alex was our son Kellen’s best friend. They were inseparable, two peas in a pod. Both smart, athletic, well-liked seniors at Torrey Pines High School. Kellen and Alex had big plans together. They would go to UCSB and room together and someday start a business together. Alex was a kid who would make any parent proud.

All that changed Oct. 4, 2009 under a harvest moon. You see, Alex and several other Torrey Pines students went to a party in Rancho Santa Fe. There was drinking at the party and at 1:30 in the morning Alex got in a car with four other boys to get a ride home. Not so far down the road the 17-year-old driver — with the 0.1 alcohol blood level — failed to negotiate the curve and the M3 flipped a number of times. Four of the boys did have their seatbelts on and all survived. Alex was not wearing his seatbelt and was killed in the crash.

So the numbers would say that traffic fatalities are down and that is great news. Having sat at the funeral and watched:

Alex’s mom collapse to the ground as she arrived at the event.

The look on every parent’s face which said that it could have easily been their kid.

Our son give a eulogy about his best friend with whom he will never again be able to laugh.

When someone you love has their number come up, the numbers mean nothing.


Our guess is that you know a Courtney or an Alex and have seen the incredible pain that comes from these tragedies.

So, what can YOU do to make a difference?

•YOU can continue to push for higher penalties and enforcement of seatbelt laws.

•YOU can continue to push for safer autos, including mandatory alcohol interlock systems for those with DUIs.

•YOU can continue to support additional teen driving restrictions.

•YOU can support Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

•Most of all YOU can keep this topic ALIVE!

17,000 fatalities in six months may be an 18 percent improvement. It’s not enough if one of those is a sweet 17-year-old boy was your son’s best friend.

Al and Leslie Cavagnero