DANVILLE--Remembers driver's ed class?

It was a place where high schoolers could learn about the rules of the road and watch graphic videos meant to leave a searing imprint in their minds. But in recent years many schools have phased out the program, focusing precious class time on getting students prepared for standardized tests.

The trouble is, teens are responsible for 67 percent of all fatal crashes, despite making up just 4 percent of drivers, according to the California Highway Patrol.

"When parents hand over their car keys, that's an enormous amount of responsibility to their children," said Officer John Fransen, a spokesman for the Contra Costa CHP, which for years has organized a two-hour class at its field office in Martinez to fill the void left by local schools.

But Martinez is a slog for San Ramon Valley families, reducing participation. Now local families can attend a free Smart Start class in the San Ramon Valley and learn about crash statistics, collision avoidance techniques and driver and parent responsibilities. The next one is scheduled for April 2 at the Dougherty Valley Performing Arts Center from 7 to 9 p.m. It is open to high school students and their families.

The class comes just weeks after the death of Anthony Grosso, a 17-year-old Danville boy who died March 6 after allegedly drag racing with another car on Highway 24. Last August, Robert Orlando, also 17, and a student at San Ramon Valley High, died in a car crash on El Capitan Drive just one day before the start of his senior year.

Supervisor Candace Andersen saw the grief Orlando's accident caused and decided to reach out to the CHP, inviting them to bring the Smart Start program to the San Ramon Valley.

"After that tragedy, it occurred to me that the program was another component to help high schoolers understand that this is real, said Andersen, who represents San Ramon and Danville on the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors and is a mother of six. "Each year, we seem to lose one to two young adults in traffic accidents. So anything we can do to raise awareness that this is happening -- not just around the country, but in our very own backyard -- is a good thing."

In November, students and parents at Monte Vista High School sat in on the first Smart Start class in San Ramon Valley. Since then, the program has been put on at Acalanes High in Lafayette and is coming to Liberty High in Brentwood April 3.

The CHP's Fransen says he works hard to create an interesting program that reflects how serious the issue is without being gruesome. The presentation does contain graphic images and mentions the names of teens who have died in crashes throughout Contra Costa County.

"It's not meant to be a scare tactic, but I want people to look at those images and realize that we're not invincible," Fransen said. "We have a tendency to strap into our vehicles like it's a piece of armor we are putting on. But we are still made of flesh and blood, and we are vulnerable. Those people made one poor decision, but it's a decision that cost them their lives."

For more information, contact Cathy DeLuca, Street Smarts Coordinator, at 925-314-3382 or cathy@street-smarts.com.

Contact Karina Ioffee at kioffee@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/kioffee.

---