Event to focus on teen driver safety

After passing the driver’s test, it seems like having a car and being able to drive without their parents is the ultimate freedom for most teens. With this new privilege also comes a lot of responsibility — something that teenagers don’t often contemplate when they are behind the steering wheel or in the passenger seat.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for 36 percent of all deaths in this age group.

“It’s the difference between knowing that accidents happen all the time, and knowing that it could happen to you. Most teens just think that they’re invincible,” said Kirsten Gradel, a student at Mercer Island High School.

A group of about eight to 10 students from MIHS have been meeting each Thursday and devoting some weekends to organizing a benefit concert for safe teen driving. The effort is led by Somer Whitmarsh, Youth Corps volunteer coordinator at Crest Learning Center. Elena Feldman and Ellie Barber are co-chairs.

The idea was born when Marlene Liranzo, a health instructor of the “Personal and Family Relationships and Image” classes at the high school offered the opportunity for her students to partake in a State Farm Insurance campaign called Shift into Safety. The project goal is to motivate teens to educate their peers about taking precautions before heading out on the road. Providing each participating school with grants of $2,000 to $5,000, State Farm is encouraging teenagers to use their imagination to create projects concerning the dangers of driving. Company officials say they hope that students will be able to raise awareness within their communities through their own innovative ideas.

Receiving $2,700 in January, the MIHS group decided that since music possesses such great power in its influence on people, it would be a great medium through which to carry out these messages of safety.

“Envisioning how the concert would be and actually making all the calls and purchases are two completely different stories,” Barber said.

The concert, named “Safe & Sounds,” will be from 7:30 to 11 p.m. on Friday, June 8 at the Mercer Island Community Center.

The band line-up includes: Don’t Tell Sophie, Might Giant, The Sutures and Left at the Castle, an extremely popular band among MIHS students. These artists come from Seattle, Tacoma and Woodinville, with a variety of different styles, such as indie, rock and alternative. Merchandise will be available for purchase; all proceeds made from Shift into Safety will go toward SADD, Students Against Destructive Decisions, a national peer leadership organization devoted to preventing reckless decisions made by teenagers.

Despite all the stress and anticipation, the Shift into Safety group has worked hard and stayed enthusiastic about the cause. It is inevitable that teenagers will be reckless at times, and the committee’s goal is not to end such behavior, but rather to inform teens of the statistics and change their attitudes toward driving.

“We’re hoping for a huge turnout, and it’s going to be an awesome show,” said Feldman. “Maybe afterwards, people will think twice the next time they’re behind the wheel, sending texts and changing CDs with one hand and a burrito in the other.”

Cindy Liu is a junior at Mercer Island High School.