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VALLEY PERSPECTIVE

Driving Home an Important Point

Teens' deadly high-speed race should remind all to slow down

March 09, 1997

These days, when a young person is more likely to die from gunfire than in a car crash, drag racing tends to seem an almost quaint throwback to simpler times--a way for kids to blow steam and show off their muscle cars. But the deaths of three friends last week during a high-speed race on the Foothill Freeway drives home the message that youth and speed can still be a deadly combination.

The California Highway Patrol estimated the driver of the car hit speeds of 100 mph as he raced a friend's new Honda Prelude near Sylmar. Two passengers and the driver--all former members of the Sylmar High School marching band--were thrown from the car and died after the vehicle spun off the roadway and tumbled down an embankment. The 21-year-old driver of the other car was arrested on suspicion of murder.

Taken alone, the deaths signify tragic ends to promising lives. But just two days earlier, three other young people died in a similar race downtown. Authorities said the two accidents appear coincidental and don't indicate a trend. But new spins on muscle cars are growing in popularity. Teenagers and young adults across Southern California spend thousands of dollars to turn ordinary foreign and domestic cars into customized speed machines complete with nitrous oxide tanks for an extra boost.

Friends of those who died in the Foothill Freeway crash insist the drivers were simply testing the performance of a new car and not racing. Regardless, the deaths point up how deadly high-speed driving can be--even with modern safety features such as seat belts and air bags. Few of even the most experienced drivers are capable of controlling a car at triple-digit speeds, let alone drivers with only a few years behind the wheel.

The point here is a familiar one, so basic parents and teens often forget it: Speed kills. Until recently, traffic accidents were the leading cause of death among young people. They remain in second place, behind only guns. Parents rightly worry about their kids away from home, tempted by drugs and endangered by guns. But it's worth reminding them now and then of the more mundane dangers.

Few of even the most experienced drivers are capable of controlling a car at triple-digit speeds, let alone drivers with only a few years behind the wheel.

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