2003-02-20 / Front Page

Teenager traffic collisions not a trend—they’re just more devastating

By Michael Picarella
Acorn Staff Writer

By Michael Picarella Acorn Staff Writer

Two recent teenager-related traffic collisions have some residents concerned that teen driving is getting worse. But according to local L.A. County statistics, only four teenage-related traffic accidents have occurred since Jan. 1 and two of them were non-injury wrecks.

The current statistics are about average, according to traffic detective Robert Evans from Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station.

"A spike or a trend? I don’t see it," Evans said. The accidents themselves had worse outcomes than usual, he said, which is probably causing the concern.

"The most recent collision is the one on Thousand Oaks Boulevard that everybody’s aware of," Evans said.

The accident occured at 1:24 a.m. Feb. 1. Two young males were going home from a party and were driving westbound on Thousand Oaks Boulevard when the driver, sources said, must’ve fallen asleep at the wheel and hit a median sign near Forest Cove and Middlecrest.

The driver wasn’t wearing his seatbelt and was flung through the windshield. He hit his head on the pavement and is still undergoing brain surgeory and treatment. The passenger of the vehicle was wearing his seatbelt and didn’t suffer any severe injuries. He was brought to the hospital for a check-up and released that night.

"It’s like anything else; as soon as people become aware of something, they’re calling and asking what we’re doing about the carnage on the highway. Well, the carnage on the highway was one collision. It wasn’t related to anything stupid. Nobody was speeding, nobody was racing, nobody was playing bumper tag—and he wasn’t drinking."

Evans said results of toxicology reports were incomplete, but he didn’t suspect that the wreck was drug or alcohol related. Evans and others speculated that the driver fell asleep at the wheel. The motorist also wasn’t wearing his seatbelt which made the accident worse.

The four collisions recorded since Jan. 1 occurred in Agoura Hills, Evans said. "We’ve had no teen collisions in Calabasas, Hidden Hills or Westlake since the first of the year," he said.

Lost Hills Dep. Mike Woodard, who coordinates STTOP (Sheriff’s Teen Traffic Offender Program), an effort that tries to correct reckless or bad driving, said teen collisions are impossible to predict. Teen vehicle wrecks aren’t like drunk driving which goes up during the holiday season. They fluctuate for no reason, Woodard said. Four bad collisions, he said, could conceivably happen the same day.

STTOP, administered by the sheriff’s department, enables anyone who witnesses reckless or irresponsible driving to report it. Woodard will visit the young driver’s home and speak with both the motorist and his or her parents about the report. The caller isn’t identified.

The purpose of STTOP is to reduce accidents, especially those involving personal injuries or fatalities.

"I think things have actually been going very well," Woodard said. "You’re never going to get away from accidents." But STTOP is helping to reduce them, he said.

For every teen collision Woodard hears about, he tries to determine if it involved a young driver he already knew. The four collisions since Jan. 1 haven’t involved any teenager he’s visited in conjunction with STTOP.

Although teenage traffic collisions don’t appear to be trending upward, STTOP has been catching on. Ventura County recently adopted the program. And teenage motorists are more likely to have accidents, based on insurance industry statistics.

Teens are usually responsible for about 30 percent of crashes, Evans said, " . . . even though they make up a very small portion of the driving population."

Public meetings help inform parents about teenage driving.

A teen traffic meeting is scheduled for xxxx p.m., Wed., Feb. 26 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Art Plaza. To report bad teenage drivers to STTOP, call toll free, (877) 310- 7867. The hotline isn’t for emergencies and calls aren’t answered immediately.

Urgent reports, such as drunk driving, should be reported to 911.

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