Article by: NORMAN DRAPER , Star Tribune Updated: June 2, 2011 - 7:58 PM
Young drivers are most likely to have crashes during summer break. A new campaign aims to keep them focused on the road.

The statistics are startling.

Teenagers are three times more likely than their parents to die in traffic accidents. In Minnesota, 118 teens died in traffic accidents between 2006 and 2008.

Statistics are only part of the story. Kelly Phillips, a Minnetonka High School senior, died in an auto rollover in 2007. She was a passenger in a car that went out of control when the driver was using an iPod, according to the State Patrol. With another passenger, they were headed for a bonfire that was to be strictly supervised by adults, and where no alcohol would be allowed. The driver was also killed in the accident and the other passenger seriously injured.

"Kelly was just like you," her mother, Jane Phillips, told several dozen students at Eden Prairie High School on Thursday. "She was really smart. She was a three-sport athlete. She had a big future. ... But her college applications never got sent in because she died before she could send them."

Phillips and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., were key speakers at the Thursday safe-driving event, designed to target high school kids before summer break, when most teen crashes occur. The event was hosted by the Minnesota Teen Safe Driving Coalition, one of 10 coalitions formed nationwide by the National Safety Council to cut down on teen auto crashes.

No-texting pledge

Students had just taken a pledge to steer clear of texting while driving. They had put their thumbprints on a big poster that said "Thumbs Up for Text-Free Driving" and were awarded thumb rings inscribed with "Texting kills."

Klobuchar cited federal legislation she is sponsoring that would require states to ban texting while driving and adopt graduated driver's licenses, which would involve some restrictions on driving until teenagers reach 18. Minnesota already has state laws addressing those issues, Klobuchar said, but some other states do not.

But it's not just about laws, Klobuchar said: "We can pass laws, but it all really starts with you and what you tell your friends." She said the issue has become especially personal for her because she is the mother of a 15-year-old who recently got her learner's permit.

"You look down at a text and it seems like a second, but during that time you can drive the length of a football field. No text is worth dying for. You just have to pass that on to your friends, because you never know who you're going to save when you do that."

Eden Prairie High junior Joanne Jiang took the no-texting pledge, although she conceded she has texted while behind the wheel.

"Hearing all those stories really makes a difference," said Jiang. "We hear more and more about it at our school, and the more I hear about it the more I put [the cellphone] down."

Phillips stressed to the students that today's teens are driving more and exposed to more risks than when she was a teenager. Back then, AM radio was about the only big distraction.

"There are more distractions and the world is much bigger," she said. "[Teens] don't ride their bikes six blocks to play in a tennis match anymore."

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547