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Natalia Salcido was a cheerleader at Christopher High School who died in a car accident when the driver was distracted.
Photo courtesy Salcido family.

If you’re the parent of a teenager who recently learned to drive, we encourage you to have a heartfelt talk with him or her about the dangers of distracted driving. We especially hope local teens will watch a short video about Christopher High School student Natalia Salcido.

The popular girl loved life and enjoyed helping people. She was a cheerleader. She volunteered at the Gilroy Senior Center and elsewhere. Sadly, she lost her life four years ago when she was a passenger in a car driven by another teenager who for a split second turned around to look at a Snapchat photo. The car went off the road and hit an oak tree, killing Natalia.

We interviewed her father, Christopher Salcido, a San Jose Fire Department captain, for a story about how the family is celebrating Natalia’s legacy with the inaugural Soiree in May to raise money for scholarships for students. Christopher told us how the family — including Natalia’s younger sister, Noelle — speak in front of parents and students and warn them about the dangers of distracted driving.

“The driver of the vehicle was of age to have her license but she should not have had passengers in that vehicle,” he said. “She ended up being distracted by a backseat passenger.”

Christopher starts off his talks by discussing his daughter’s inner beauty. He’ll tell the audience, “It’s almost been four years since I had a chance to hug my daughter and give her a kiss and tell her that I love her.” That emotion of loss usually strikes a chord with families, and parents especially. He tells them: “We appreciate our family members but you never know when their lives will end.”

Everyone who is behind the wheel of a moving automobile needs to be focused on the road and other vehicles around them. Young people often think they’re invincible, and so they take risks that more mature drivers wisely avoid. Most kids have grown up with phones in their hands, but they’re brand-new to being behind the wheel. It takes only a split second of distraction to take your mind and your eyes off the road.

April was Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The California Office of Traffic Safety, the California Highway Patrol and Impact Teen Drivers teamed up to educate drivers on the importance of driving free of distractions, as well as cracking down on drivers who violate the hands-free cell phone law.

“Cell phones are working against us in the fight against distracted driving,” OTS Director Rhonda Craft said. “The hope is that a combination of education and enforcement will drive people to change bad behaviors for the better.”

According to preliminary data from the CHP, 66 people were killed and more than 6,500 injured in 2017 from distracted driving related crashes. In 2018, the CHP issued more than 109,000 citations for violations of the hands-free cell phone laws. A 2018 observational study by the OTS found about 4.5 percent of drivers were seen using a cell phone, a nearly 27 percent increase from 2017, but down from 2016, when 7.6 percent of drivers were seen using a cell phone.

“Each year, we could fill eight large yellow school buses with the number of teens we lose to preventable car crashes in California alone,” Impact Teen Drivers Executive Director Dr. Kelly Browning said. “We need to always keep two hands on the wheel, two eyes on the road, and most importantly keep our mind focused on our driving. Remember to be an alert and engaged passenger at all times – after all, 50 percent of the teen driving fatalities last year were passengers being driven by another teen driver.”

Under the 2017 hands-free cell phone law, drivers are not allowed to hold a wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device while driving a motor vehicle.

Christopher Salcido told us that the time when high school prom and graduations comes in spring can be especially hazardous. Many students are getting a taste of independence. Unfortunately, they might not be mature enough to be responsible drivers with that freedom. Parents need to emphasize to them that a car can kill.

“For me as a fire captain, responding to these types of incidents, that’s what I do, that’s my job,” he said. “When it’s something that happens to your family, it’s unfathomable.”

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Gilroy Life Editorial

If you would like to share your thoughts about this editorial, please email Robert Airoldi, the Gilroy Life editor, at editor@GilroyLife.com or call him at (408) 427-5865.
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