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Parents of teens killed on Utah roads urge caution, communication

Chuck and Julie Groat talk about the loss of their son, Chaz, in a fatal crash. They asked teenage drivers to slow down and be more cautious on the roads in a press conference on Thursday.

Chuck and Julie Groat talk about the loss of their son, Chaz, in a fatal crash. They asked teenage drivers to slow down and be more cautious on the roads in a press conference on Thursday. (Emily Ashcraft, KSL.com)



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

WEST VALLEY CITY — Forty-three teenagers were killed on Utah roads in 2019 and 2020. Parents of two of these teens on Thursday urged other parents to talk to their young drivers about slowing down, also asking that all drivers to be more cautious.

"We just want other kids to listen, and to learn that speed kills. The roadway, no matter how many times you've traveled on that road, maybe you've done it 100 times before, but that 101st time that you do it might be the time that you have an accident and you don't walk away," said Chuck Groat, the father of 17-year-old Chaz Groat, who was killed in a vehicle crash on Dec. 31, 2020.

Chaz Groat was an accomplished race car driver, his dad said. He had been driving on race tracks since he was 4 years old, and set records as a young teenager. Although Chaz was used to driving with a lot of speed — in cars and on tracks that are designed for racing — Groat's speed on a road less than a mile from his house led him to hit a curb, lose control and get hit by oncoming traffic.

An incident like this could happen to anyone, Chuck Groat said.

"We hope to spread the message that no matter how good you think you are behind the wheel, no matter how accomplished you think you are behind the wheel, that it just takes that one bad decision, one moment to change everything," he said.


We hope to spread the message that no matter how good you think you are behind the wheel, no matter how accomplished you think you are behind the wheel, that it just takes that one bad decision, one moment to change everything.

–Chuck Groat


Tracy Gruber, executive director of the Department of Health and Human Services, said that it is important for parents to talk to kids about reducing distractions, including texting, following speed limits, substance abuse and drowsy driving.

"Parent engagement reduces the likelihood, but, of course, kids make their own decisions and you just want to know that there's consequences, very dire in some instances," Gruber said.

Aaron and Dusty Buck also spoke about the loss of their son, Greysen Buck, who, at 13, chose to walk across a busy street on his way to school in the early morning wearing dark clothes. They learned, after he was hit by a car and killed in October last year, that their son had taken this route across the street many times before, instead of taking a safer sky bridge a block and a half away.

"Our son made a bad decision that cost him his life, and we don't want other kids to make that decision," Aaron Buck said.

The Bucks have been on a mission, since their son was killed, to make other streets safer for children on their way to school.

Lisa Wilson, with the Utah Department of Transportation, said that parental involvement "plays a key role" in keeping teenagers safe. She encouraged parents to have two-way conversations with their teenagers about safely, using resources on the Zero Fatalities website. She said that a teenage driver who has parental monitoring in a supportive way is half as likely to speed, two times more likely to wear a seat belt and 70% less likely to drink and drive.

"There are so many pressing issues facing us in the state of Utah right now — there's no issue more important than the safety of all users of our roadways," Wilson said.

She said that teenage drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a crash.

Utah Highway Patrol Col. Michael Rapich said he has responded to "way too many" fatal crashes in his 29 years as a state trooper. He said they are particularly more memorable when they involve young people. Rapich said parents of teen drivers can cut the risk to their teen drivers in half by following the guidelines in Utah's Graduated Driver Licensing Laws. Since the laws were introduced, there has been a 69% decrease in 15-17 year old drivers dying in motor vehicle crashes.

The laws require teens under 18 to have a learner's permit for at least six months and practice driving with a licensed driver for 40 hours, including 10 hours at night. Additionally, after a teenager gets their license, they are required to only drive with immediate family for six months and not drive between 12 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Rapich said the guidelines "allow teens to learn driving under safer conditions, they safeguard teens from situations known to increase crash risk, and they help kids gradually increase their independence while learning safe driving habits."

"Hopefully, those driving habits continue as they get more experience and develop more independence," the trooper said.

The Utah Department of Health, UDOT and the Utah Department of Public Safety have a joint initiative with Zero Fatalities to help bring attention to safety issues on Utah roads and the importance of parental involvement in teen driving. This includes a yearly support meeting with families of teenagers who were killed on Utah roads and a press conference, which was held Thursday in West Valley City.

"This is a chance for them to not only share a message to try to prevent this from happening to someone else but it gives them a chance to meet people who are going through the same thing they are, and there's a lot of comfort in that They feel very alone most of the time," said Utah Department of Health spokeswoman Jenny Johnson.

Each family, including the families of Chaz Groat and Greysen Buck, is asked to write their experiences, afterwhich, they are compiled into a Teen Memoriam book which the state publishes each year.

"It's a hard book to read, but it's also a hopeful one," Johnson said. "Families share their stories in the hope that other families will not experience a similar tragedy."

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