How can you prepare your teenage driver for the road?

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The one-vehicle accident that killed a Paragould teen and injured three other passengers Sunday afternoon marks another fatal crash involving a teenage driver in the past two weeks.


According to Arkansas State Police, the vehicle was driving west on Highway 358 when it ran off the shoulder of the road.  The vehicle swerved back across the road and hit a pedestrian before overturning and hitting a tree.


Arkansas State Trooper Tony Hill says 15-year old Dakota Easton of Paragould was killed in the accident.


The accident Sunday comes two weeks after two Westside High School students were killed and one injured in a car accident on Highway 63 after their prom.


According to Arkansas State Police, both accidents had multiple passengers, and the drivers in both accidents overcorrected from lane shifts as they were driving.


Arkansas State University driver's education instructor Mitch Mathis said he sees a lot of the inexperience and potential distractions that make for a deadly combination in the class he has taught 10 summers at ASU. "Distractions are the leading cause in our teenagers. It used to be drinking and driving, but that number has gone down, and now it's just distracted drivers," he said. "That's why they passed that law as far as limiting the number of people that could be in the car with them."


In March 2009, Arkansas legislators passed a bill that limits when 16 and 17-year-old drivers can be on the road and how many people can be in the car.


According to Senate Bill 309, anyone under the age of 18 cannot drive between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., except when leaving a school event, work or an due to an emergency.


The bill also bans minors from driving with more than one non-related passenger who is under the age of 18, unless they are accompanied by a 21-year-old passenger who sits in the front seat.


ASU health professor Dr. Paul Finnicum said his 14-year-old daughter isn't ready to drive in normal to heavy traffic yet. "She just earlier this week passed her written driving test, and she has been practicing with us in a remote location out on the Little Red River gravel roads and what not."


He said he will try as hard as he can to prevent his daughter from becoming another tragic statistic. "We try to keep her away from stoplights, four lanes, anything over 45 miles an hour until she kind of gets a feel for what it's like to be behind the wheel."


Mathis believes there are things parents can do to keep their teens safe. First, put new drivers on the road before they get to the driver's education class. "The biggest thing for us is that they're not having a lot of driving time before they get to us."


Mathis said the two-week class schedule does not allow instructors to put students in every driving situation possible, such as inclement weather and driving at night. Therefore, parents need to allow their teenagers to practice in advance because the curriculum is focused on fundamental skills. "We go out on the road, then we do just driving in the neighborhood, and we'll work on changing lanes, and we'll work on going from a four-lane road to a two-lane road."


He also said the class textbook says it takes five years for drivers to become comfortable on the road, and parents should make their teens minimize the distractions in the car, both things and people.


"Cell phones are a big distraction to our teenage drivers. So, they passed the law that under 18 couldn't text or use a cell phone, but there's other distractions that are out there. We see it everyday with people at the stoplight putting on makeup, or changing the radio station, or reaching down in the floor to pick something up or even eating while they're driving."


In January 2009, Arkansas legislators approved a ban on texting while driving called "Paul's Law", or House Bill 1013, after 41-year-old Paul Davidson of Jonesboro was killed in a car accident due to a driver who was texting while driving.


"The parent can say, "We can be ticketed for this, which is going to be a financial loss. So, that gives them a little bit more teeth in limiting their drivers to having passengers in their car," Mathis said.


In the accident on Highway 358, the driver. 19-year-old Daniel Foster, and the passengers, 15-year-old Dakota Easton, 15-year-old Chelsea Hyde and 25-year-old Alec Howard, all from Paragould, were not wearing seatbelts, according to Arkansas State Police.


Arkansas State Police records show of the 42 people ages 0 to 30 who died in a car accident in the past year, 29 of those people were not wearing seatbelts.


Dr. Finnicum said he and his wife already have a plan for their daughter when she is allowed to drive without having them in the car. "Absolutely no phone. Absolutely the limit of the passengers, which is one non-family member."


"There will also be limits on where she can drive. We aren't going to let her haul to Memphis until we've seen it ourselves. She'll drive to Memphis herself, with us."


Daniel Foster and Chelsea Hyde were treated and released from Arkansas Methodist Medical Center in Paragould.  The condition of Alec Howard is unknown.


Call (870) 680-8133 for more information about the driver's education program at Arkansas State University.  The class is not yet at full enrollment.


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