WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — It is National Teen Driver Safety Week Oct 15-21, and parents are encouraged to talk to their teenagers about staying safe on the road. Those topics include everything from speed, seatbelts, and distracted driving.

Those things can be the difference between life and death. For Denee Cupp’s daughter Kenzee, it was.

“It changed our lives forever, ripped apart of our life, our soul, our heart,” Denee said.

Kenzee Cupp died at 19 years old because of a driver on their phone.

“Get off your phone,” Denee said. “Get off your phone. You pass people. They’re watching a movie. They’re texting their friend. They’re fighting with their boyfriend. Pull over.”

Denee’s plea is for people to change their habits and realize the danger that can happen in just a few seconds.

“I don’t want anybody else to go through this,” Denee said.

Kenzee dreamed of being a chef. Her mom, Denee, says she was kind, optimistic and a ray of sunshine.

The Cupp family has started Kenzee Cares, which has a Bless a Meal program.

“I don’t want to become angry, bitter. I’m hurting enough as it is,” Denee said. “I want to make a difference. I have to make a difference. She would make a difference, you know? So I have to carry that on for her.”

The Kansas Department of Transportation Behavioral safety manager, Gary Herman, says studies have shown that those conversations have reduced crashes and increased responsible driving.

“We want to get the message out that we can drive safer, and it’s easy to do, and compliance to the law is in many times going to help save your life,” Herman said.

Herman says many crashes are preventable.

“If you have teen drivers, ask them if they know all the technology in the vehicles, do they know how to use them? Do they know what they mean? If they’re following too close, if there are lane departures, what do you do? How do you react? Have those conversations with the teen drivers so they’re more educated about what they face while they’re driving,” Herman said.

According to the CDC, car crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, and young drivers are nearly four times more likely to be involved in a fatal traffic crash than those older than them.

Herman says young drivers are the riskiest age group on the road, and the reasons are straightforward – immaturity and inexperience.

There are a few different programs KDOT recommends to help teen drivers:

  • Graduated Driver License (GDL) law. Kansas has a GDL program that phases in driving privileges for teens and imposes restrictions, such as banning nighttime driving or limiting the number of peers in the vehicle. Herman says parents and guardians play a key role in their child’s experience of learning to drive and should understand and enforce the Kansas GDL law.
  • KDOT says driver training is available to all. Driver education and training are available to everyone – regardless of race, income, gender, language, age or other characteristics.
  • 2024 is KDOT’s fourth year of the IKE Driver Education Reimbursement Program, the Legislature authorized with the IKE program. $250,000 of annual state funding is aimed at drivers 14-30 years of age. Applicants must meet financial requirements and complete an authorized driver education course.
  • Two teen driver-focused programs: Ford Driving Skills for Life and B.R.A.K.E.S. driver training for teens.
  • S.A.F.E. originated in Kansas years ago and is teen-led, inclusive of all cultures, sustainable, positive and have measurable objectives