Prom season in Ashtabula County is fully upon us. Five county schools will have their big day this weekend — Grand Valley, Jefferson, Geneva, Edgewood and Conneaut. For most students it is a celebration of a successful school year that is nearing a close, and for others it is a last hurrah with their friends before graduation and the next chapter of their lives. 

But for all those headed to prom this weekend, we cannot stress enough the need to be smart and safe. AAA points out that from 2013 to 2017, there was a nationwide average of 161 fatal crashes in May involving drivers age 16-18. In 2016, the most recent year data is available, there were 79,000 teen drivers involved in non-fatal crashes.

“There’s no reason prom shouldn’t be a fun time for teens, but with the increased risks, preemptive steps need to be taken,” said Theresa Podguski, director of legislative affairs for AAA East Central. “We encourage parents to talk with their sons and daughters about the potential dangers they face behind the wheel, or with other teens behind the wheel.”

Teen drivers today face many challenges — and potential distractions. First, many teens are waiting longer to get their licenses, and while they might be more mature when they do get behind the wheel they may also be less experienced. Second, when teens do drive they often have cars filled with their friends, which can create distractions and the temptation for reckless driving behaviors, such as speeding or not wearing seatbelts. Third, even when teens drive alone, technology — particularly phones and the lure of texting while driving — can create dangerous distractions.

We should note these behaviors are by no means exclusive to teenagers, too many adults are prone to distractions and fail to obey the rules of the road — for example, turn signals are not optional — and many teens are careful drivers. However, because of their lack of experience, teens can be more vulnerable to accidents, so parents need to stress the importance of mature behavior, especially on an exciting night like prom when many other things might be on their mind while they’re on the road. 

Most importantly, parents need to make sure their teens understand the dangers of driving drunk. Ashtabula County has been fortunate in recent years that high profile drunk driving days, such as New Year’s Eve, the Super Bowl or St. Patrick’s Day, haven’t resulted in any alcohol-related fatalities. But the message needs to be reinforced before teens head out this weekend.

AAA offers some tips for parents and teens to help navigate prom season safely:

• Parents should talk to their teens about the dangers of driving drunk or distracted and speaking up if a peer is engaging in such behavior.

• Teens need to know where they’re going and communicate with parents about their plans before and after the prom.

• Promgoers should have a pair of comfortable shoes on hand so they don’t have to drive in high heels or dress shoes they aren’t used to.

We hope all Ashtabula County students have a safe and fun prom weekend.