Parents of teens killed on Utah roads call for caution and communication

Chuck and Julie Groat talk about the loss of their son, Chaz, in a fatal accident. They asked teenage drivers to slow down and be more careful on the roads at a press conference on Thursday. (Emily Ashcraft,

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WEST VALLEY CITY – Forty-three teenagers were killed on Utah roads in 2019 and 2020. The parents of two of the teenagers on Thursday urged other parents to talk to their young drivers to slow down, also asking all drivers to be more careful.

“We just want other kids to listen and learn that speed kills. The road, no matter how many times you’ve traveled this road, you might have done it 100 times already, but this 101st time you have done it. maybe do the moment you have an accident and you don’t walk away from it, ”said Chuck Groat, the father of Chaz Groat, 17, who was killed in a car crash on Dec.31, 2020.

Chaz Groat was an accomplished racing driver, his father said. He had been driving race tracks since the age of 4 and set records from an early age. Although Chaz was used to driving at high speeds – in cars and on tracks designed for racing – Groat’s speed on a road less than a mile from his house caused him to hit a sidewalk, to lose control and be struck by oncoming traffic. .

An incident like this could happen to anyone, Chuck Groat said.

“We hope to get the message across that no matter how good you think you are behind the wheel, no matter how accomplished you think you are behind the wheel, it only takes one bad decision, one moment to change everything.” , did he declare. .

We hope to get the message across that no matter how good you think you are behind the wheel, no matter how accomplished you think you are behind the wheel, it only takes one bad decision, one moment to change everything.

-Chuck Oatmeal

Tracy Gruber, executive director of the Department of Health and Human Services, said it’s important for parents to talk to children about reducing distractions, including texting, obeying speed limits, drug addiction and driving. drowsiness at the wheel.

“Parent engagement reduces the likelihood, but of course kids make their own decisions and you just want to know that there are consequences, very serious in some cases,” Gruber said.

Aaron and Dusty Buck also opened up about the loss of their son, Greysen Buck, who, at 13, chose to cross a busy street to get to school early in the morning wearing dark clothes. They learned, after being hit by a car and killed in October last year, that their son had taken this road across the street several times before, instead of taking a safer airlift to a block and a half.

“Our son made a bad decision that cost him his life, and we don’t want other kids to make that decision,” said Aaron Buck.

The Bucks have been on a mission, since their son’s death, to make other streets safer for children on their way to school.

Lisa Wilson, of the Utah Department of Transportation, said parental involvement “plays a key role” in keeping teens safe. She encouraged parents to have two-way conversations with their teens about safety, using resources from the Zero Fatalities website. She said a teenage driver who has supportive parental supervision is half as likely to accelerate, twice as likely to wear a seat belt and 70% less likely to drive while impaired.

“There are so many pressing issues facing us in the state of Utah right now – there is no issue more important than the safety of all users of our roads,” Wilson said.

She said teenage drivers are three times more likely to be involved in an accident.

Utah Highway Patrol Col. Michael Rapich said he had responded to “far too” fatal accidents during his 29 years as a state soldier. He said they are especially memorable when they involve young people. Rapich said parents of teenage drivers can halve the risks to their teenage drivers by following the guidelines of Utah’s graduated driver licensing laws. Since the introduction of the laws, there has been a 69% decrease in the number of drivers between the ages of 15 and 17 who died in traffic accidents.

The laws require that teens under the age of 18 have a learner’s license for at least six months and practice driving with a licensed driver for 40 hours, including 10 hours at night. In addition, once a teenager has obtained his license, he is required to drive only with his immediate family for six months and not to drive between 12 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Rapich said the guidelines “allow adolescents to learn to drive in safer conditions, they protect adolescents from situations known to increase the risk of accidents, and they help children gradually increase their independence while learning habits. safe driving “.

“I hope these driving habits will continue as they gain more experience and develop more independence,” said the soldier.

The Utah Department of Health, UDOT and the Utah Department of Public Safety have a joint initiative with Zero Fatalities to bring attention to safety concerns on Utah roads and on the importance of parental involvement in the behavior of adolescents. This includes an annual support meeting with families of teenagers killed on Utah roads and a press conference, held Thursday in West Valley City.

“It’s a chance for them not only to share a message to try to prevent this from happening to someone else, but it gives them a chance to meet people who are going through the same thing as them. , and there’s a lot of solace in that They feel very lonely most of the time, ”Utah Department of Health spokesperson Jenny Johnson said.

Each family, including the families of Chaz Groat and Greysen Buck, is invited to write down their experiences, after which, they are compiled into a Teen Memoriam book that the state publishes annually.

“It’s a tough book to read, but it’s also a hopeful book,” Johnson said. “Families share their stories in the hope that other families will not experience a similar tragedy.”

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