Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009 | 1:50 a.m.
A 42-city tour made its last stop at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway this week to show teens the consequences of using electronics while driving.
Melissa Stoloff, spokeswoman for Allstate Insurance's Action Against Distraction Driver Challenge, said car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teenagers. She said more than 4,000 teens are killed each year tied to driving distractions such as texting, making cell phone calls, loud radios and disruptive passengers.
In Las Vegas, teen drivers are more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash than in most major metropolitan areas. Las Vegas ranked No. 15 on a list of the 50 largest metro areas in Allstate’s “America’s Teen Driving Hotspots study,” which examined federal crash statistics and insurance claims on teen accidents.
Allstate driving instructors rode with teens Tuesday and tried to distract them during the course. Instructors asked the teens to type text messages and unwrap fruit rollups without hitting cones on the course.
Jayson Davis, 16, said he drove poorly during the texting exercise. He said he hit nine cones and will think twice before texting while driving.
Ian Salvatierra, 17, was nicknamed the “clutch master” on the course, but said he hit several cones while texting.
“I’m not going to lie -- I text, but that’s not going to happen anymore because it’s too dangerous,” Salvatierra said.
Stoloff said drinking and driving is a concern for teenagers, but texting causes more accidents. She said Allstate's data indicate drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash if they're texting.
While teens participated in the program, parents watched from the sidelines.
Geri Gonacha saw her 16-year-old daughter, Nikki, complete the course. She said she asked her daughter to participate because she’s scared her daughter might use a cell phone while driving.
“When she’s with me there’s no texting or no talking on the phone,” Gonacha said. “I told her to pull over on the side of the road if she needs to use the phone.”
Metro Police officer Richard Strader, with the department's traffic bureau, answered questions from teens and their parents. Strader said texting and driving is not illegal in Nevada, however, if it affects someone’s driving, then it becomes illegal.
“I don’t think enough people take driving seriously,” Strader said. “One distraction can change your life forever.”
Strader said he has seen what a vehicle traveling 40 mph can do to someone when it strikes an object. He said he wishes more teens would participate in the program.
Kirsten Valainis, 17, said she almost drove through an intersection on a red light once because she was focused on sending a text message.
“I’ve been doing terrible today,” she said. “I text while driving, but I probably won’t anymore.”
Stoloff said teens might promise not to text or use distractions while driving but parents should get the statement in writing. She said Allstate has a parent-teen driving contract available on its Web site.
She said most parents do not know how to facilitate a dialogue with their teen about driving, so the contract helps both parties agree on rules and restrictions.
“They both sign the contract and relate back to that,” Stoloff said. “It helps parents have that conversation with their teens.”
Allstate agent Susan Bailey said she has a contract with her 17-year-old son, Glenn.
“He is on that contract,” Bailey said. “I’ve caught him texting, using the radio and iPod before.”
Bailey said her son was reluctant about participating in the course, but told her he’s glad he did it.