BRAZOS COUNTY, TEXAS — When you think of "the talk" you may immediately think of a talk that a parent has with their teenager about dating.
There is another talk that is just as important, one that should be had when teens and young adults start driving.
According to TxDOT, in 2019, drivers 15-25 years of age represented nearly 22% of all fatal crashes in Texas, which was a slight increase from the year before.
Those shocking statistics of lives gone too soon are part of a push that prompted a new educational program in the Brazos Valley.
Pamela Todaro is a Brazos County mother with a message that's loud and clear.
"Think before you get behind the wheel, know what you are going to be doing, plan ahead. If you know you want to go out and go drinking then get a designated driver. Know what your plan of action is, so you are going to be safe. His death was preventable. It was a choice he made unfortunately and it doesn't have to happen," Todaro said.
Those are heartbreaking words from a mother advocating for safe driving and making it her full-time job to share the story of the death of her 25-year-old son Dillon.
He lost his life six and a half years ago while behind the wheel.
"He was drinking at his uncle's house and left the residence and just right around the corner and died right on the property at the home and he was not wearing his seat-belt and was going too fast," Todaro added.
Impacted by her son's tragic death, she is now sharing his story and is assisting with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension's Brazos Valley Injury Prevention Coalition and Statewide Initiatives Program, introducing a family-focused program to have the talk about the consequences of impaired driving.
"As I was preparing for his funeral and buying his headstone and writing his obituary, those were things I thought I would never have to do as a parent and it's something I've lived through," Todaro said.
It's not only impacting their own life, but the lives of those around them, including those responding to the calls.
Kenny Elliott, a retired criminal investigator with nearly 40 years of experience at the Brazos County Sheriff's Office, and current Justice of The Peace in Brazos County, says he's seen the very worst of distracted driving.
"Distracted driving...drinking and driving... It's all preventable. I have recently worked 2 fatalities of young people in Brazos County and they were both preventable and that's something the family will have to suffer through for the rest of their life," Elliott said.
The new "Safe Teen Talk: Before They Drive" program's goal is to prevent injuries and fatalities by supporting educational and impactful discussions between adults and youth.
"Whether you are the number 1 quarterback, the debate team captain, the valedictorian. No-one is invincible. Tragedies and traffic fatalities don't discriminate, but it's about the choices that are made," Mary Jo Prince, Program Manager of Texas A&M Agrilife Extension's Brazos Valley Injury Prevention Coalition and Statewide Initiatives Program said.
To her kids, Pamela is a parent first and a friend second. She hopes no mother has to live this same heartbreak.
"I want the kids to think about what it could be for their parent to have to make those choices. They shouldn't have to make those choices and you shouldn't be so selfish they have to make those choices," Todaro added.
Todaro, Elliot and Prince all shared the common message that driving education starts at home and driving safely is a shared responsibility.
Prince says until TxDOT's COVID-19 related travel restrictions are lifted, the “Safe Teen Talk: Before They Drive” presentation is available virtually, either live by Zoom or in recorded format and is made possible with the support of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas Department of Transportation.
For more program information about scheduling the “Safe Teen Talk: Before They Drive” program for your group, organization or school, contact Program Manager Mary Jo Prince at 979-321-5225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.