Memorial Day has always signaled the start of summer. This year for the American Automobile Association (AAA) it marked the start of their campaign called the “100 Deadliest Days” – a period that runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
According to the AAA, nationwide more than 30 percent of deaths involving teen drivers occur during this period. Their research says that for every mile driven, teen drivers ages 16-17 years old are three times more likely to be involved in a deadly crash compared to adults.
For the period from 2011-2020, there was an average of 2,063 teen drivers involved in fatal crashes with 642 of those (31%) occurring during the 100 deadliest days. And more than 7,124 people died in teen-related summertime crashes from 2011 to 2020.
“This summer could prove to be even more dangerous for teen drivers as the 100 Deadliest Days coincides with what is expected to be a busier summer driving season than last year,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “AAA expects two years’ worth of pent up travel demand to be unleashed in the coming months. That means more traffic on our roadways, which raises the crash risk – particularly for young, inexperienced drivers.”
Just a week prior to the Memorial Day weekend, NASC
In 2020 for example, the California Highway Patrol responded to more than 25,000 calls involving illegal street racing in that state, an increase of more than 3,500 calls from the year before. And in 2020 Washington D.C. police said speeding contributed to 40% of fatal crashes. Last year the Texas Department of Transportation reported over 1,200 fatal crashes that involved excessive speed.
While not intentional perhaps, the Suárez- Freeway Insurance campaign was launched at an opportune time. The 30-year-old Mexican born driver is well known as not only a NASCAR racer but also an avid car collector devoted to classic Volkswagens. He restores classic cars in a shop he shares with his father. It’s where his love affair with cars started when he was young as he helped restore cars with his dad. His first car was VW Beetle.
He now races for Trackhouse Racing in the NASCAR Cup series but can still be seen at car events and was part of a recent network series “United We Drive” that highlighted classic car aficionados and car culture. As part of the car community, Suarez knows full well how dangerous street racing can be.
“A few minutes of fun can change your life forever,” Suárez said. “The sad reality is that most of the time, an innocent bystander pays the price.”
This season Freeway Insurance increased its sponsorship with Suárez and Trackhouse and will be the primary sponsor for five races. And while it is using that sponsorship to help sell its products, they have a national advertising campaign featuring Suárez including the only Spanish-language commercials featuring a NASCAR driver but have added the safety campaign to highlight the dangers of street racing as well. For the campaign, Suárez recorded PSAs highlighting the dangers of street racing in English and Spanish.
“NASCAR fans associate Suárez and the Freeway Insurance Chevrolet Camaro with speed, but we wanted to educate them that nothing is more important than safety when getting behind the wheel of a car,” said Cesar Soriano, CEO of Confie parent company of Freeway. “Even if this campaign stops just one person from putting themselves and others in a dangerous street racing situation, it will have been a success.”
And while most businesses use their sponsorship to sell products or services, the PSA element has more of an altruistic element. Something that’s just fine with Suárez.
“I think it’s very important to recognize that it’s important to have a business, but it’s important to do well, right, to the community and to the people,” Suárez said. “And I feel like that’s exactly what Freeway Insurance is trying to do.”
Suárez points out that most of those who race on the street are younger and believe they can race on the street like it’s a racetrack.
“You know it’s just not the right place,” he said. “In the street, there is a lot of different variables. Cars are not as safe as race cars, people on the street they don’t even know that you’re coming fast. There’s just so many different variables.
“It’s just very important to be conscious and to understand that that it’s not the right place to do it.”
Suárez he was talking about the dangers of street racing before the campaign.
“Everyone in the country and in many countries, they do track days where you can go out there, safely, have helmets, seatbelts, and go out there and do laps on a racetrack, that’s a way to do it,” he said. “You know, that’s what I try to encourage my friends in Mexico to do.
“I have a lot of friends in Mexico, they love racing, but they don’t, they’re not racecar drivers, so they try to go to track days. I think that’s the best way to do.”
When the Freeway Insurance campaign ends, and the 100 Deadliest Days are over, Suárez will continue to do what he can to teach drivers, especially young ones, about being safe on the street.
B.R.A.K.E.S. is a free teen driving school started by NHRA legend Doug Herbert started when Herbert’s teen sons Jon and James were killed in a car crash in 2008. The program travels the country and is based in Charlotte North Carolina. Suárez said he’s been in conversations with Herbert about the program and what they can do in a partnership.
“I know them very well,” Suárez said. “So hopefully in the future we can do something together with Freeway and B.R.A.K.E.S. and hopefully put something together just to help the community.”