JO DAVISON: Teenagers must learn to treat cars with respect...

When it all goes wrong: Three teenagers died when their car hit this tree in Conisborugh
When it all goes wrong: Three teenagers died when their car hit this tree in Conisborugh
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If a crazed gunman had burst into a youth club and mowed down six kids under the age of 17, there would be a national outcry.

At the tragic, ugly loss of so many young lives, questions would have raged.

How could such destruction have been allowed to happen? Who was responsible? How can it be prevented from happening again?

Well, in just a month of 2011, six South Yorkshire teenagers were killed.

There was no mad gunman. They died in two car smashes just a few miles apart.

The parents of the six - whose ages range from 14 to 17 - are still reeling in pain.

The young friends of the dead are still making pilgrimages to lay flowers and poems and weep at the roadside memorials growing bigger and more poignant by the day in Mexborough and Conisbrough.

The grief-striken mourners are far from alone.

Last year, hundreds of teenagers died in similar circumstances on Britain’s roads - a substantial number of them in this county. And without a doubt, by the end of 2011, many more loved, vibrant kids will be dead, too.

And all because one of the commonest and most easily accessible of deadly weapons known to man has become a form of entertainment to the young.

The car is seen as a toy, the next must-have gadget.

Even the illegal taking and driving of one is given a name that implies fun.

But joy-riding isn’t joyous for the owner of the car, or the owner of the lad who gets caught at the wheel and hauled before the youth courts, or gets killed.

Learning to drive and owning your own wheels is now seen as a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood.

Only, so many never make it all the way.

Because the car they were so desperate for, which their parents probably saved up and bought, killed them and the group of friends unfortunate enough to be sitting in the passenger seats on what was supposed to be a great night out.

That precious status symbol went out of control, turned over, hit a tree, or got hit by another car.

You might be terrified your son could get knifed in a street attack, or your daughter raped and strangled on her way home.

But the crimes that grab the headlines and put parents’ hearts in a vice are rare.

The fact is, 80 per cent of teenage deaths happen in car crashes.

Mostly, it’s down to their inexperience, their love of speed, their bravado.

They think cars are glamorous things to flash around, impressing the opposite sex and their mates with.

It’s got to change, But how?

There is a wealth of research and data showing that an 18-year-old driver is more than three times as likely to be involved in a crash as a 48 year-old. That one in five new drivers has a crash within six months of passing their test. That between the hours of 2am and 5am the risk of a young driver crashing is 17 times that of an older male.

But kids don’t want to listen to the statistics - they think they’re never going to be one of them. They reckon that their youth is actually a plus. That because their reactions are so much faster than their dad’s, they’re bound to be better. And anyway, they’re ace at Grand Theft Auto IV.

Kids truly believe they’re invincible.

We - parents, police, motoring organisations, schools, driving schools - have to find a way to make them realise that invincible is the last thing flesh and blood is.

And that the car, a loaded gun in the wrong hands, has to be treated with respect.