Four Teenage Girls Killed in a June 2019 NE Crash — but Alcohol is NOT the Only Issue

11:12pm, June 17, 2019.  180th and Platteview Road, Papillion, Nebraska.

The five occupants of the crashed Ford Fusion.  Only one survived.  [Submitted photo.]
According to a Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office press release of July 16, 2019, a Ford Fusion, being driven by Abigail Barth (16), was heading east along Platteview Road at an estimated speed in excess of 90mph when it left the roadway and “ultimately came to rest in a creek and caught on fire. Tragically, four of the five occupants of the vehicle were killed in the crash.”

Subsequent forensic examination showed that Ms. Barth had a blood alcohol content [BAC] of 0.09%, thus exceeding the legal limit of 0.08% and over four-times the limit of 0.02% which some states apply to teen drivers.

The BACs of the three passengers killed were:  Alexandria Minardi (15): 0.02%,  Kloe Odermatt (16):  0.01%,  and Addison Pfeifer (16): zero.  The only survivor was Roan Brandon (15).  All five were students at Gretna High School.

The press release also stated that the “Sheriff’s Office [was] continuing its investigation to determine the origin of the alcohol that was provided to the occupants of the vehicle prior to the accident [sic].”

A press conference was subsequently given by the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office on December 30, 2019, in which they stated that “the source of the alcohol the teens acquired has not been determined.”

According to Omaha.com, this “crash happened in almost the exact same location as a December 2006 crash that killed Gretna High School seniors Jacob Hurd and Kyle Lavigne.  In that 2006 crash, driver Matthew Robinson was driving 101 mph, heading east on Platteview Road just west of 180th Street, when he crashed.  Robinson had been drinking.”

So what are the Other Issues?

Apart from the extreme speed and the possibility of seat belt non-use — which the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office undoubtedly will have dealt with in detail — there are, in fact, two major background issues, one of which American parents typically are aware of, but the other one much less so:

Teens Driving Teens

It is very well-known and widely published in the USA that letting any teenager drive another teen (without responsible adult supervision) increases the crash risk dramatically, and the more teenage passengers that a young driver has in the car, the higher that crash risk goes.  It is as simple and inescapable as that.

Sixteen is Seriously Too Young for Kids to be Driving!

Sadly, this is another area in which the USA falls well short of best practices in all of the other developed nations of the world.

The typical age at which young drivers can take the practical test and drive alone in most developed countries is 18.  On this subject, the OECD and ECMT state:  “Any reduction in the licensing age for solo driving will increase young driver risks significantly, [whereas] any increase in the age of licensing for solo driving is likely to decrease fatality risks. [Young Drivers – The Road to Safety]

This link to age is all to do with brain development – specifically the frontal cortex – which is critical to any driver’s ability to react in a crisis situation, and this physical development of the brain is not actually complete until the age of 23.5 years, irrespective of gender or race.

Compare the evidence-based statements in the previous two paragraphs to the situation to this day, here in America.  Only New Jersey – at 17 – is even close to the best-practice age of 18.  Most American states are 16, a few are 15, and two are 14.  There has been some benefit from Graduated Driver Licensing [GDL] but research has shown that even this benefit has come mostly from GDL’s effect of forcing the age of solo driving up by about six months.

We would argue that the research shows this simply is not enough.

One other aspect is that about 2 of every 3 teenagers killed in crashes in the USA in 2018 were males.  [IIHS]

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In due course, if any family members or friends of any of the victims of this terrible crash wish to provide further information or photographs, we will create individual memorial pages.  Please contact us at Road Safety USA.

 

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