Families of teen crash victims share their grief

(Sandy, UT) – In 2016, 34 families were devastated to learn their teenager had been killed in a motor vehicle crash on Utah roads. Today, they shared their stories to encourage others to drive safely.

Brad and Jenny Montague’s 16-year-old daughter, Erica, was killed on May 7, 2016. “She had gone with a friend to take another friend a gift. Her curfew was 10:30 p.m. so when she was a few minutes late, I sent her a text asking where she was. She replied back, ‘We’re hurrying.’ That was the last time we would hear from her,” said Brad Montague. The driver of the car Erica was riding in was speeding and lost control of the car. The car turned sideways into oncoming traffic. They were hit on the passenger side of the car and Erica was killed instantly.

“Please don’t speed. If you are going to be late, call your parents and let them know. We promise you that they would rather have you home safe and sound – and late – than not come home at all,” pleaded Montague.

Excessive speed was the number one contributing factor in fatal crashes involving a teen driver last year in Utah. Data from the Utah Highway Safety Office showed in 2016, crashes involving a vehicle driven by a teenager traveling 50 miles per hour or higher were 5.5 times more likely to be fatal.

This is the 10th year the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) and Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) have collected stories of teens killed in motor vehicle crashes. Over the last 10 years, 285 teens aged 13-19 have died on Utah roads. The lives of 120 of these teens were featured in the memoriam books. The books are used by state and local agencies to help drivers of all ages realize the impact their decisions have on others. The books are also distributed to high school driver education classes throughout the state.

Fifteen-year-old Joshua Nielsen is one of those teens featured in this year’s book. Joshua was riding in a car driven by his friend, who had received his learner permit a few months prior to the crash. The driver turned in front of an oncoming vehicle, which T-boned the passenger side where Joshua was sitting. He took the full force of the crash. No one else was hurt.

“There is a reason you practice driving with an adult in the vehicle after receiving your learner permit. Experience is vital,” said Joshua’s mother, Elizabeth Nielsen. “We were honored to be Joshua’s parents and privileged to have this extraordinary soul with us. We will forever miss the beautiful light that shined so bright whenever he entered the room.”

Driver inexperience is often a factor in crashes involving a teen driver. Nationally, the risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year olds than among any other age group. In fact, per miles driven, teen drivers aged 16-19 years old were three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.

“Today I am pleading for parents, siblings, and role models to go above and beyond. Don’t let driver education end after a semester-long course. Driving safely is a lifelong pursuit and should be a lifelong effort to improve,” said Carlos Braceras, UDOT executive director.

“Policies such as the Utah Graduated Driver License laws are designed to help new drivers learn driving skills over time and gain the experience needed to become safe drivers. These laws along with prevention efforts by our state and community partners, have saved lives,” said Joseph Miner, UDOH executive director.

The public is invited to view an exhibit commemorating the lives of 120 teens killed on Utah roads over the past 10 years. Memorabilia from select teen crash victims and their stories will also be on display. The exhibit will be at The Shops at South Town in Sandy, Utah through the holiday shopping season.

To download a copy of the book A Reminding Light: Remembering 15 Lives Lost on Utah Roads, visit http://health.utah.gov or http://ut.zerofatalities.com/dont-drive-stupid/.

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