Teen safe driving program launched at Orchard Park

by Chinta Puxley
The Hamilton Spectator
January 22, 2002

Cara Filler watched her twin sister die in a car crash the day after her 18th birthday.

The two sisters were driving home in separate cars. Cara was trailing her sister Mairin, who was a passenger in the car ahead. Her boyfriend was driving — three times the posted speed limit. He lost control when he tried to turn a corner. The car flipped several times before it slammed into an oncoming car. His car bent at a 90 degree angle, right at Mairin’s door handle.

Cara saw the whole crash, but ambulance attendants still had to strap her down before police broke the news.

“They were about to tell me the worst thing I had ever heard in my life and they thought I would freak out,” Filler said. “They said ‘I’m sorry Cara. Your sister didn’t make it.’”

It’s seven years later and the Richmond, B.C., native has told this story to a half million people. But she still choked up yesterday when she told it again to around 500 spellbound students at Orchard Park Secondary School. She was at the Stoney Creek school to promote safe teen driving and launch the “I promise” program. It attaches a decal with a toll-free number to the family car and allows others to report aggressive driving.

It’s the kind of program Filler said will get parents more involved in their teen’s life and may eventually save someone else’s.

Teens are four times more likely to be involved in a car crash than any other age group. One in four teens across North America are involved in a crash within their first year of driving.

If at least one of you gets the message, that means my sister didn’t die for nothing,” Filler told the audience. “I don’t want any of you to become a statistic.”

Gary Direnfeld doesn’t want to see that either. That’s why the Dundas resident came up with a local version of the “I promise” program two years ago. The concept hit him after he was aggressively passed by a young man in a Camaro on the highway. As a parent, he really wanted to let that boy’s parents know how he was driving.

Shortly thereafter, he saw a “How’s My Driving?” decal and toll-free number on the back of a truck and came up with the idea. Both parents and teens sign a contract, promising to drive safely. At a cost of $49, they put the decal in the back of their car, inviting people to call the toll-free number

to comment on their driving. The comments are then passed on to the family.

It’s like every street has a radar trap now,” Direnfeld said. “The entire community has their eyes on you.”

The program has been up and running in Texas since 1994 and has 2,000 teens signed on in the U.S. Tom Deats, senior patrol officer in Arlington and founder of the Texas program, said it inspires better driving because teens become painfully self-aware.

“It creates such paranoia for teen drivers,” Deats said. “It’s not just cops that can get them now. Anyone can report them.”

Some students in the audience already had a few candidates in mind for the program.

Elycia Watson, an 18-year-old in OAC at Orchard Park, said she would love to see a decal on her teenage neighbor’s car. “He’s the craziest driver,” she said. “I hope he saw this presentation.”