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Santa Clarita Strives to Keep Teens Alive

So fast, so furious — and so dead. Santa Clarita’s 16- to 18-year-olds make up 12 percent of the driving population, yet they are involved in 25 percent of all driving collisions. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for those aged 16 to 19, and more than 60 percent of teen passenger deaths occur while another teen is driving. 

Over the past several years, nearly 100 local youths have died as a result of traffic collisions in the Santa Clarita Valley, and the number of tragedies was growing. Keepingteen drivers safe was an ongoing challengefor local law enforcement, the city and the community, particularly as Santa Clarita’s population — and number of young drivers — continued to grow. Additionally, households in which both parents workedand whose teens have more money, free time and, often, a car contributed to a rise in drug and alcohol use among teens, and ultimately to an increase in teen traffic incidents and youth fatalities.
Clearly, Santa Clarita needed to make significant changes in order to ensure the future of its younger generations. “Our children are our most precious gifts,” said community member Debbie Knight during the opening ceremony at the Youth Grove memorial. “They are our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, loved ones and friends. Vow today that no more will lose their lives because we drive too fast; no more will die because we drive under the influence; no more will perish because we lapse in attention for just one moment; no more will be lost because of reckless acts on the road. Join us in a cry that no more names will be added to
this memorial.”
Youth Grove Educates Public
The Santa Clarita Youth Grove is the ultimate teaching tool and the newest addition to a series of existing programs. Dedicated to Santa Clarita’s young adults (24 years and younger) who died in traffic-related incidents, the grassroots project is supported by Santa Clarita youth, the city and the Blue Ribbon Task Force for Youth Safety. The Youth Grove provides a safe and centralized location for young people, the community and families to remember those who died tragically. It also serves as a powerful teaching tool that targets the next generation and the community at large.
Located in a corner of the city’s Central Park under a stand of tall trees, the half-acre memorial features a central monument surrounded by pillars that mimic cut tree stumps, each representing a young life cut short. The Youth Grove creates a space for the community to reflect upon the unfortunate consequences of drinking and driving and reckless driving. It serves as a graphic reminder to a visual generation to be mindful and responsible when getting behind the wheel.
It took three years of community education, fund raising and working together to create and complete the Youth Grove. The City of Santa Clarita’s Visions in Progress (VIP) Youth Advisory Group helped raise funds through car washes and the sale of wristbands inscribed with the phrase, “KNOW MORE.” The city council soliciteddonations from the business community, including those that market to teens, the local car dealers’ association, developers and others.
Menu of Programs Targets Youth
But the Youth Grove is only part of a much larger, comprehensive community effort to safeguard the future of Santa Clarita’s youth, which includes:
  • Teen Court. Now in its 11th year, the program has processed approximately550 youth offenders. The most common offence is shoplifting, but small-scale possession of marijuana and assault are also tried through the Teen Court. The rehabilitation rate of the program is 96 percent, with only 15 participants failing to meet their service requirements to date.
  • Sheriff’s Teen Traffic Offender Program (STTOP). Since the program started in 2004, incoming reports to STTOP have remained consistent, numbering between 250 and 300 annually. Residents call a hotline to report and give the vehicle license number of any teen they see driving dangerously, which is used to locate the teen’s residence. One hundred percent of these calls receive follow-up, with intervention efforts by a city sheriff’s deputy targeting the drivers and their parents. The deputy visits the home and provides information to both parents and teen about safe driving. The teen is generally given a warning, and parents are urged to take their teens to the Youth Grove.
  • Every 15 Minutes Program. National statistics show that every 15 minutes, someone dies in a traffic-related incident. This two-day program involves a graphic dramatization of an alcohol-related car crash and its aftermath, in which local high school students play the roles of the victims and drunk driver. “Injured” students are actually taken to the hospital, the “drunk driver” is booked at the sheriff’s station, “fatalities” are taken to the morgue and parents are actually notified of their child’s “death.” While many teens know the statistics, they often believe it will never happen to them until they are taken to the Youth Grove, where they see the names and faces of 67 local youth (some of whom they remember from school) whose lives were cut short because either they made the wrong decision or someone they shared the road with made the wrong choice. The program has been implemented annually in two high schools for the past 10 years. To date, between 10,000 and 20,000 students have been reached by the program.
  • Red Light Camera Program. The goal of the program was to reduce collisions and injuries at five of the busiest intersections in the city by monitoring traffic with red light cameras. Between July 2004 and July 2005, collisions were reduced by 80 percent, injury collisions were reduced by 20 percent and traffic violations decreased by 40 percent within the first year of the cameras be- ing introduced. These reductions are attributed to increased awareness and changes in the behavior of drivers due to the presence of the cameras.
Youth Grove Proves Popular With Community
Since the Youth Grove opened in early 2006, it has been surprisingly popular. Families of the youth included in the Youth Grove visit the site, and teen support groups, teachers and others use it regularly as an adjunct to their programs.
The Youth Grove serves as the cornerstone of the City of Santa Clarita’s comprehensive program for preserving, preparing and educating the next generation and their families. Demonstrating the program’s success, the city has not had any teen traffic fatalities since January 2005.
Contact: Tess Simgen, Community Services Division; phone: (661) 255-4956; e-mail: <tsimgen@santa-clarita.com>.
The City of Santa Clarita won an Award for Excellence in the Enhancing Public Trust, Ethics and Community Involvement category of the 2006 California Cities Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more information about the awards program, visit www.cacities.org/helenputnam.
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