Teens learn to be safety ambassadors for their peers

St. Petersburg, FL (July 16, 2013 - WTSP 10 News) -- Students from across the state are hoping to spread a lesson that could save lives. The students are becoming safety ambassadors at the Florida Teen Safe Driving Coalition's Leadership Academy taking this place at All Children's Hospital.


Car crashes are still the number one killer of teenagers, accounting for more deaths than the next two leading causes for that age group combined. The new texting and driving ban which will go into effect in October may help cut down on some of the deaths, but safety experts say that is just one step.


As part of their training, retired Tampa firefighters Greg McCarty and Ronnie Garcia showed the students what they often find when arriving on an accident scene. They strapped 17-year-old Shawn Donaldson of Gaston County onto a gurney for a vivid reenactment.


"All of them think, 'It's not going to happen to me. This'll never happen to me -- it's always someone else,'" said Greg McCarty. "But when we actually take of their classmates, one of their friends...we put them through a crash, we strap them to a board, we show them the tubes and needles that we use to save somebody's life, then it starts hitting home."


"It really hit home with me because that's how my father passed away -- from a car accident," said 17-year-old Alexis Bergsten, of Vero Beach.


The group also toured the emergency room at All Children's Hospital, where some young accident victims wind up. They learned that seat belts are still the best way to avoid accidents.


The goal is for the students to take what they've learned at the leadership academy and create a program at their own schools to help keep teens safe.


"It's one thing for us adults to say, 'You've got to buckle up when you get in the car,'" said Danielle Branciforte of the Teen Safe Driving Coalition.  "But it's another thing to be in a car and have that teen passenger say, 'I'm gonna get out of the car if you don't put your seatbelt on.' Or, 'I'm not comfortable with you texting and driving.' When they're telling each other that in the car it's a lot more impactful."