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Tracy Frank, Published July 17 2012

Miss Teen North Dakota International driven to promote safer youth driving

FARGO – Olivia Naylor of Fargo lost her cousin, Jared Cunningham, when he was just 13 years old and riding in a car with an inexperienced driver, she said.

The driver tried passing another car when he was driving uphill on a two lane road. The car was broadsided and Naylor’s cousin was killed.

The accident happened more than 17 years ago in California. Now, Naylor, 18, speaks out in support of graduated driver’s license laws and has made it her platform as Miss Teen North Dakota International 2012.

Graduated driver’s license laws impose restrictions on young drivers such as the number of passengers they can have in their vehicle, how late at night they can drive and the amount of time they must hold their learner’s permits.

Naylor has partnered with the Northern Lights Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) organization and spoke in March at the Northern Lights conference to a crowd of more than 700 people, she said.

“It was a really receptive group to speak to, so it definitely made it a lot easier to tell the story,” she said.

But Naylor’s message isn’t always welcomed.

“Especially when I was talking with the drivers’ ed classes, they definitely weren’t as receptive as the SADD group,” Naylor said. “They just want to get their licenses, but one of the messages I really try to get across to them is that you can’t think you’re invincible.”

The Governors Highway Safety Association states on its website that novice drivers have higher crash rates and graduated driver licensing programs allow them to safely gain driving experience before obtaining full driving privileges. Most programs include a learner stage, intermediate stage, and full-privilege stage.

“This is so important,” Naylor said. “Graduated drivers licenses save lives.”

Because North Dakota’s graduated driver’s license law doesn’t include a passenger restriction beyond vehicle manufacturer recommendations, Naylor plans to work with state representatives to change that.

“It’s so important because the risk of death among teen drivers doubles when there are two teen passengers in the car and it triples when there are three,” she said. “It’s such a key aspect.”

Naylor leaves Saturday for the Miss Teen International national competition in Chicago. The preliminary competition is July 26, and the final competition is July 28.

To prepare, she’s been working on her interview skills, walking and lining up her wardrobe, she said.

Her grandfather, Victor Gelking of Vic’s Aircraft Sales, held an open house at Vic’s Aircraft complete with food and plane rides to help Naylor pay for her expenses for the national Miss Teen International competition.

She said her family’s support has been “awesome.”

“It’s very comforting knowing that everyone’s there for you,” she said.