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Montgomery Co. Officer Turns Tragedy To Teen Driver Awarneness

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Montgomery County Police Captain Thomas Didone visits the grave of his son, Ryan, who died in a car accident when he was 15.
Thomas Didone
Montgomery County Police Captain Thomas Didone visits the grave of his son, Ryan, who died in a car accident when he was 15.

"One of the worst jobs in our career is the time when we have to knock on that door and tell your parent the news that no one wants to hear," says Captain Thomas Didone, director of the county's traffic division.

He knows that knock all too well. Two years ago, Didone's 15-year-old son, Ryan, died in a car wreck. He was a passenger in the vehicle with five other teens.

"That day in October, he didn't buckle up," says Didone. "He got into the wrong car, he made a bad decision, and there's nothing I can do to change that other than to encourage parents to recognize that it can happen to them. If it can happen to me, it can happen to them."

An evangelist of sorts for teen driver safety, Didone is conducting a series of seminars at high schools. The seminars are designed to end driving distractions such as texting, in an effort to create safer teen drivers.

He also says it's important to realize teens learn to drive at an age in which their bodies have temporarily outgrown their nervous system. Didone says hand-eye coordination is poor and so is decision making, so even the best-trained teens will make errors and should learn to drive in stages.

"Just because they heard it once, it doesn't mean a thing," he says. "Constant reinforcement is the key with this, and also open communication. Recognize that there is a great potential for kids to make mistakes, and so there's an equal potential for coachable moments."

Takia Conay, a junior at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, Md., heard the message and learned her lesson.

"I have my permit and when my mom's in the car and she's not looking I try and text...but I'm not doing that anymore, at all -- ever," she says.

In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported car accidents remain the leading cause of teen deaths in the United States.

CORRECTION: The captions on the photos on the original version of this story misstated the nature of the 2008 car accident. The accident that killed Ryan Didone was not related to drunk driving.

MVA's Teen Driver Safety Brochure
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