By Brian Livingston

According to several government agencies who track teen traffic deaths, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for more than one in three deaths in this age group.

In 2005 alone, 12 teens ages 16 to 19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries.

For seven years, classes at the Meridian Public Safety Training Facility (MPSTF) on Sandflat Road have tried to buck the trend of teen traffic deaths by offering a defensive driving course. Bunky Partridge, director of the training facility, announced Friday morning three dates for teens to sign up for the classes were finalized.

"We want to give teens the confidence to drive in such a way as to minimize death and injury to them and to other motorists," said Partridge. "We put them through several scenarios throughout the four day session so they can become familiar with the right things to do. They will be getting a lot of wheel time in a vehicle."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the United States during 2005, 4,544 teens ages 16 to 19 died of injuries caused by motor vehicle crashes. In the same year, nearly 400,000 motor vehicle occupants in this age group sustained nonfatal injuries that required treatment in an emergency department. Overall, in 2005, teenagers accounted for 10 percent of the U.S. population and 12 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths.

The four-day session costs $30 and lunch will be available for $5 per day. Partridge said the classes, limited to 20 students aged 15 and up, are taught by patrol officers of the Meridian Police Department. During their sessions the teens will operate a vehicle in wet conditions and in other scenarios to instruct them on how best to handle each situation.

"We will have them in a classroom the first day and then the rest will be behind the wheel learning how a vehicle reacts in certain situations and how best to maintain control of the vehicle," Partridge said.

The sessions start at 8 a.m. and run until 4 p.m.

The dates for the sessions are, June 15-19, July 6-10 and July 20-24. For more information call (601) 484-6890.

Teen driving facts

This information was compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

• Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate dangerous situations or not be able to recognize hazardous situations.

• Teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and allow shorter headways (the distance from the front of one vehicle to the front of the next). The presence of male teenage passengers increases the likelihood of this risky driving behavior.

• Among male drivers between 15 and 20 years of age who were involved in fatal crashes in 2005, 38 percent were speeding at the time of the crash and 24 percent had been drinking.

• Compared with other age groups, teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use. In 2005, 10 percent of high school students reported they rarely or never wear seat belts when riding with someone else.

• In a national survey of seat belt use among high school students: Male high school students (12.5 percent) were more likely than female students (7.8 percent) to rarely or never wear seat belts.

African-American students (13.4 percent) and Hispanic students (10.6 percent) were more likely than white students (9.4 percent) to rarely or never wear seat belts.

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