The deaths of 17-year-old Jack Schwass and 16-year-old Thomas Brown rocked the Clovis community earlier this month.
The teens died Feb. 7 when their car collided with a tree near Bullard and Armstrong Avenues.
While the community continues to mourn their loss, California Highway Patrol Public Information Officer Mike Salas said the deaths could serve as a reminder to local teens of the potential dangers they face when they get behind the wheel.
“From those tragedies we can build and hopefully save another life further down the road,” Salas said.
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death of people between the ages of 15 and 20.
Between 2010 and 2018, there were 3,251 fatal car crashes involving people aged 15 to 20 in California alone, according to the National Highway Safety Administration.
Salas has spent much of his CHP career preventing auto accidents, especially amongst teens. He said the CHP collaborates with Clovis Unified School District on a number of programs that are designed to teach teens about auto safety and the dangers of drunk and distracted driving.
“Our main purpose is to reduce the amount of injuries and fatalities on the roadways,” Salas said. “I go to high schools throughout Clovis Unified as well as others throughout the valley. I go into either a classroom setting or an assembly setting and I give safety presentations about the dangers to new drivers and the consequences of poor driving habits out on the roadway.”
One of the CHP’s newest programs is the Start Smart Program. Salas said the 90-minute class teaches teens and parents about the dangers of distracted driving and driving under the influence.
“Aimed at new drivers, it not only incorporates the new teen driver but it also incorporates the parents,” he said. “It is a program the CHP offers and we give that free class at our office the last Thursday of every month, but we also take that class out to high schools so if the high school requests the Start Smart program, we can set it up in an auditorium type setting or in a classroom setting.
“It’s a very informative program, it gives some tips and pointers about safe driving and it’s also a reminder of the things that can happen in regards to distracted driving and drunk driving,” he continued. “We cover all the major topics.”
Since the 1990s, the CHP has also collaborated with CUSD on the Every 15 Minutes Program. The program is a school-wide simulation of the aftermath of a tragic accident involving drunk driving.
“It’s an in your face program. This is what really happens out there when you mix alcohol with driving. It takes place with the high school students and it really depicts the serious consequences of drinking and driving and the aftermath that can happen, which typically can result in serious injury or death,” Salas said.
Salas said that even if the programs he presents save one life, they are a success.
“These are proven programs, if we save one life because of it, it is a success,” he said. “Obviously our goal is 100 percent prevention of DUI fatalities but unfortunately that is not always the case. These types of collisions are 100 percent preventable.”
As far as easy advice for young drivers, Salas said teens should remember to not drive without a license and that their decisions on the road are permanent.
“The choices that you make are permanent if you chose to drink and drive, if you chose to speed, if you chose to drive distracted,” Salas said. “Collisions are permanent, injuries are permanent, and fatalities are permanent. The mistakes and the errors that seem to be not as important at the time could lead to a tragedy and loss of life.”
If you would like to request Salas give a presentation at your school, he can be reached at email@example.com.