Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Another teen dies in a crash

Inexperience, inattentive driving cited as common factors in such collisions

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The second teen in less than two weeks has died in a car crash in the Bethesda and Potomac area. Both collisions remain under investigation, but police and safety advocates say inexperience and inattentive driving are common causes of crashes involving teen drivers.

Early Saturday morning, 18-year-old David Winston Wilmot II, of Bethesda died in a single-car crash on Bradley Boulevard. Police say Wilmot was headed west toward Wilson Lane when he lost control of the Jaguar he was driving and struck a tree. The teen, a recent high school graduate, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The crash comes less than two weeks after a fatal Jan. 21 crash in Potomac, in which Winston Churchill High School senior Brenton Thomas Everson was killed after the car his friend was driving veered off the road. The 16-year-old driver, Richard ‘‘Drew” McManus, another Churchill student, is recovering from injuries he sustained in the crash.

Wilmot was wearing a seatbelt at the time of his collision. Everson was not.

A teen driver should ‘‘make sure that not only you, but everyone in the car with you has their seatbelt on,” said Natalie McManus, Richard McManus’s mother. ‘‘We are devastated at Brenton’s loss.”

In 2007, seven people age 20 or under died in fatal car or motorcycle collisions in Montgomery County, according to Sgt. Meredith Dominick of the Montgomery County Police Department’s collision reconstruction unit. Car crashes are the number one cause of death for people age 15-20, according to the Sean Mullsteff Teen Driving Foundation, a Maryland nonprofit organization that aims to reduce teen driving deaths.

Dominick’s unit is the primary investigator of crashes, such as the ones that claimed the lives of Wilmot and Everson. According to Dominick, inexperience and inattentive driving are the most common causes of crashes among youth — even more of a factor than alcohol.

‘‘They just don’t have the years behind the wheel to know how to react when they’re faced with a certain set of circumstances,” Dominick said. Factors like speed and icy or wet road conditions can be disastrous for new drivers, she said.

Young drivers are also less likely to wear seatbelts, Dominick said. Of the seven young people who died in county collisions in 2007, three were not wearing seatbelts, one was wearing a seatbelt improperly, and it is unclear whether another was wearing a seatbelt, according to Dominick. A victim that died in a motorcycle crash was not wearing a helmet.

‘‘I think they have a sense of invulnerability,” said Dr. Kenneth Beck, a professor of behavioral health at the University of Maryland who administers a Web site for parents of young drivers. ‘‘When you’re young you tend to falsely believe you’re going to live forever. They don’t care about dying,” Beck said.

According to county police Officer Bill Morrison, factors like text messaging, talking on cell phones and even working on laptops while driving are common causes of crashes when it comes to teens. Morrison conducts outreach in Montgomery County public high schools to educate teens about safe driving practices.

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration implements a graduated licensing system in which new drivers are issued a provisional license before they receive a driver’s license. Restrictions are placed on new drivers under 18 that bar them from driving between midnight and 5 a.m. The restrictions also limit the passengers that are allowed to ride along for 151 days after receiving the provisional license. During this time period, provisional license holders are not allowed to ride with passengers under the age of 18 unless they are supervised by a family member or other qualified driver — someone who is over 21 and has three years of driving experience.

McManus was apparently in violation of some of these conditions in the Jan. 21 crash, which occurred just before 2:30 a.m. and falls within hours in which new drivers are restricted from driving. It is unknown whether he is in violation of any other restrictions. Police say they have not decided whether to cite McManus for violating the rule.

According to Beck, parents should play an active role when it comes to regulating the activities of new drivers by picking up where the MVA’s regulations leave off. Parents should set early curfews and nix passengers, and gradually relax the restrictions as teens prove their responsibility. A parent-teen driving agreement in writing is also a good idea, Beck said.

‘‘The teens will also get the message that ‘Hey, this can reduce my crash risk,’” Beck said.

Despite lessons and rules, however, teens can still make bad decisions when it comes to driving, Natalie McManus said.

‘‘Unfortunately, Drew is living with the consequences of that,” she said.