After posing for prom pictures - a timeless tradition that made them late for dinner at a Mason restaurant - four Monroe High School students climbed into a 2013 Tesla and traveled down Millikin Road.
They never made it to dinner.
That night, April 28, the Tesla crashed and a 17-year-old Monroe senior sustained injuries that took her life three days later and changed forever the lives of everyone involved.
Looking back, the fatal crash was the perfect storm: A 17-year-old driver behind the wheel of her father’s luxury car, three teenage classmates in the car, and everyone in a rush to get to dinner and continue their prom experience.
The driver, Chynna Brandon, a junior at Monroe who turned 17 one month earlier, reportedly was driving 112 mph in the posted 55 mph zone near Butler-Warren Road — even though her passengers have said they begged her to slow down. The vehicle lost control, over corrected, then struck a telephone pole, according to the Butler County Sheriff’s Office.
Attorney Melynda Cook, who represents the driver, called her client “a poster child” for the dangers of teen driving.
A back-seat passenger, Kaylie Jackson, 17, a senior at Monroe, wasn’t wearing her seat belt, reportedly because she didn’t want to mess up her prom dress. She was thrown from the vehicle, and died three days later.
Earlier this month, the driver entered a plea in Butler County Juvenile Court of true to aggravated vehicular homicide and two counts of aggravated vehicular assault. At her sentencing last week, her father told the crowded courtroom: “This is a very hard day for me. What started out to be a very memorable moment for prom will always live with her forever.”
While the three survivors recovered from their injuries, that accident — and where to place the blame — has ripped apart the close-knit Monroe community. The driver, who last week was sentenced to a rehabilitation center in Xenia, possibly for six months, testified she will “never be forgiven for what happened” and will be “hated” by families and everyone involved.
But a fatal crash involving a teen driver certainly isn’t unique. This one has drawn extensive media coverage because it occurred on prom night, one of the much anticipated events for students and feared experiences for parents and police.
Traffic crashes are a leading single cause of death for teens; from 1999 to 2006 35 percent of all teen deaths occurred because of motor vehicle accidents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last year, 115 teens were killed on Ohio’s roads, said Kimberly Schwind, a regional spokeswoman for AAA. Of those, 43 were driving, 20 were passengers of teen drivers, 40 were occupants of other vehicles, 11 were pedestrians or cyclists and one was other, according to the AAA.
She said the number of people killed or injured in teen driver crashes jumped 15 percent the last two years; new teen drivers, those 16 to 17 years old, are three times as likely as adults to be involved in a deadly teen crash. Two-thirds of those injured or killed in crashes involving teen drivers are people other than the driver.
“Too many kids are dying on our roadways,” she said. “These are not bad kids. They’re kids who don’t have enough knowledge and experience for driving the huge machine they’re behind.”
There is a push in Ohio to pass House Bill 293 that proposes to make roads safer for all drivers by providing teens with more experience, Schwind said.
The bill would increase the age for a probationary driver’s license to 16 1/2 from 16, increase the temporary instruction permit requirement to a year from six months, and change the nighttime period restrictions for permit and probationary license holders, among other provisions, she said.
If teens were required to hold a learner’s permit for a full year, it would give them an opportunity to drive during all Ohio seasons and weather conditions, Schwind said. She said parents in states that have a 12-month permit are extremely supportive.
In North Carolina, the initial effects of a similar young driver’s license system saw a 57-percent reduction in 16-year-old fatal crashes within the first two years, Schwind said.
And research analyzed for the five years after Kansas enacted a 9 p.m. nighttime driving protection found a dramatic decrease in the number of crashes, injuries and fatalities between 9 p.m. and midnight. The largest decrease was a 71-percent fall in fatalities during the 11 p.m. hour.
H.B. 293 passed out of the Ohio House Transportation and Public Safety committee earlier this year, but did not receive a floor vote. It’s expected the bill will be reintroduced in the next General Assembly, which starts in January.
Kevin Lackens, owner of Bick’s Driving School with locations in Middletown, Lebanon and Springboro, said there are seven major reasons teens are involved in more accidents than their adult drivers. He said instructors go over those reasons with every student driver.
The reasons are: passenger distractions, including cell phone and passengers; lack of driving experience; lack of nighttime driving experience; lack of maturity; peer pressure; increased risk taking; and alcohol/drugs.
It takes a novice driver five to seven years to develop the skills of an average, adult driver, Lackens said. Teens speed, they make mistakes, and they get distracted easily, especially if their friends are in the car, he said.
In a study analyzed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, teen drivers were two-and-a-half times more likely to engage in one or more potentially risky behaviors when driving with one teenage peer, compared to when driving alone.
According to the same study, the likelihood of teen drivers engaging in one or more risky behaviors when traveling with multiple passengers increased to three times compared to when driving alone.
In fact, research shows the risk of a fatal crash goes up in direct relation to the number of teenagers in the car.
When Lackens learns of a teen driver being injured or killed in an auto accident he gets frustrated, knowing his driving school and others in the industry fulfilled their obligation.
“We can teach them what to do, what not to do,” he said. “But then they’re on their own.”
To get a probationary driver’s license in Ohio, a person younger than 18 must complete a driver-education class at a licensed driver-training school that includes 24 hours of classroom or online instruction and eight hours of driving time. The teens must complete another 50 hours of driving, with at least 10 at night, Lackens said.
Speeding is a critical safety issue for teen drivers. In 2016, it was a factor in 32 percent of the fatal crashes that involved passenger vehicle teen drivers. There is also evidence from naturalistic driving studies that teens’ speeding behavior increases over time, possibly as they gain confidence.
Teens are more likely than anyone else to be killed in an alcohol-related crash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2016, almost one out of five teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had been drinking. Even though the minimum legal drinking age in every state is 21, data shows 16 percent of 15- to 18-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2016 had been drinking.
Seat belt use is lowest among teen drivers. In fact, the majority of teenagers involved in fatal crashes are unbuckled. In 2016, a total of 818 teen (15- to 18-year-old) drivers and 569 passengers died in passenger vehicles driven by teen drivers, and 58 percent of those passengers were not wearing their seat belts at the time of the fatal crash, according to the CDC.
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