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Rosemount summit focuses on keeping teen drivers safe

Ryan Dupay reacts while using a simulator designed to give people the experience of driving while distracted. The simulator was one of several demonstrations available at Thursday's teen driving summit.2 / 2

Police officers, driving instructors and student leaders gathered at the Rosemount Community Center Thursday to talk about keeping kids safe on the roads.

The Metro Area Safe Communities Coalition held its fourth annual teen driving summit from 8:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the community center. The event is designed to give people who work with young drivers access to the tools they need to keep people safe in a world where portable distractions like cell phones are in nearly every driver's pocket.

"A lot of people think teens are drinking and driving. That's not the issue," said Monica Jensen, community relations director for the Dakota County Attorney's office. "It's the speed. It's the distraction. It's the inexperience. Least of all, it's the chemical impairment."

Thursday's event started with an address from Trish VanPilsom and closed with a presentation by Vijay Dixit about the life and death of his daughter, Shreya Rekha Dixit, who was killed by a distracted driver in 2007.

In between there was an award-winning public service announcement made by Stillwater High School, the release of the new Distracted Dodger game by the Intelligent Transportation System Institute at the University of Minnesota and demonstrations by school resource officers with their fatal vision goggles.

The group, made up of representatives from Dakota County, Hennepin County Medical Center, Ramsey County, the Minnesota State Patrol and Washington County, among others, originally hoped to draw 100 to 120 people to the summit. Jensen expected more than 170 people to attend this year.

"We're kind of a little panicked, but success to us, we didn't really have a number as a volunteer group," Jensen said. "We have people from all over the state that are interested.

"The people who come are amazed at all of the resources."

Jensen wants to get the message across that driver's education isn't something that can wait until a teen is ready to get behind the wheel. It starts with parents modeling good behavior.

"The day you teach your child to drive is not when they get their permit. It's kindergarten or before," she said.

According to MASC, drivers ages 16 to 19 were involved in 11.3 percent of all 2010 traffic crashes despite making up just 5.8 percent of all drivers. Drivers in that age category were involved in 8.8 percent of all fatal crashes and 11.1 percent of injury crashes. Forty one teens ages 15 to 19 were killed on Minnesota roads.