“Your parents are Christmas shopping for you.  I bought a headstone for my daughter. Put your phones away and put your seat belts on.”

That powerful message was delivered to Shenandoah County teens and their parents this week in the school system’s Partners for Safe Teen Driving program by a mother whose 18-year-old daughter was killed in a car crash last May.  Her daughter was not wearing a seat belt and was replying to a text message when the accident occurred.

Teens dying in car crashes are stories that are too often in the news.  Of all teen deaths in America, motor vehicle crashes are the cause, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC statistics paint a frightening picture:

• Distracted driving kills more than nine people each day and injures 1,153.

• Half of all high school students 16 and older said they sent texts or emails while driving within 30 days of a CDC survey.

• 69 percent of drivers 18-64 years old have talked on their cell phones while driving, and 31 percent in that age group have read or sent texts or emails while driving at least one time within 30 days of the survey.

Regarding seat belts, it seems that people over age 35 are more in the habit of buckling up than those between 18 and 34.  Why is that?  Do they think they’re immortal because gray hair and wrinkles are in the distant future? Well, they’re not.  Of all young people 13-20 who died in crashes in 2012, the CDC reports 55 percent of them were not wearing a seat belt.

These are certainly depressing statistics, but they need to be shared along with a grieving mother’s message to local teens and their parents: keep your eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and buckle up.