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Teens who died in crash were racing

Tuesday, December 17, 2013by  Jon Osterberg

Two teenage girls died near Port Orchard Dec. 16 when their car left the road and struck a tree.
   It was another tragic tale involving several of the crash factors typically found in teen accidents: teen driver, teen passengers, after dark, speeding, car leaves road, hits tree, alcohol and drugs not involved.
   Add another key factor in this crash: the teen driver was racing another car.
   Teen racing doesn't always involve muscle cars. In the heydey of high-octane Detroit metal, teens squared off to race for pink slips (title to ownership) or simply bragging rights. GTOs versus Chevelles, Mustangs versus Firebirds, Chargers versus Camaros. Or older souped-up Galaxies, Bel Airs, Darts, Cutlasses, Wildcats, and pre-war hotrods.
   But the girls who died this week were in a 1994 Toyota Camry, trying to beat a 20-year old male driving a 1997 Toyota pickup.
   Teenage racing did not perish with the muscle-car era. Exuberance and thrill-seeking remain more a product of age than machines.
   The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says young drivers tend to overestimate their own driving abilities and, at the same time, underestimate the dangers on the road. Research points to inexperience as the culprit, along with rash judgment.
   "Teenagers' lack of experience behind the wheel makes it difficult for them to recognize and respond to hazards," the IIHS writes. "They get into trouble trying to handle unusual driving situations, and these situations turn disastrous more often than when older people drive."
   Part of the challenge is that teens tend to act more impulsively than adults. Even when educated, teens can yield to impulse over intellect.
   During my sophomore year of high school, word traveled fast after a peer at a neighboring school died after wrapping his hemi-powered Dodge around a tree on the Redmond-Fall City Road. Police and school officials brought the car's grotesque, twisted hulk to school as a shocking reminder to think twice about speeding.
   Despite understanding those dangers intellectually, it didn't prevent my friends from racing like idiots a short time later, as recounted in an earlier blog post.
   That's not to say education is futile. Beginning drivers must recognize and avoid the dangers of racing. Though the Port Orchard tale ended in tragedy, it could have been even worse had the girls' car killed pedestrians or other motorists.

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