PITTSBURG -- If any high school students showed up for the driving safety talk thinking they already knew it all, they likely had a change of attitude by the time John Fransen was done.
The California Highway Patrol officer pulled no punches Tuesday as he described -- and showed in graphic detail -- the consequences of making poor decisions behind the wheel during an impassioned presentation at Pittsburg High School.
"I'm not going to sugarcoat anything," Fransen told listeners in warning them about the photos of grisly accident scenes he would show. "My hope is that you won't look away."
About four dozen parents and their teens showed up for the nearly two-hour talk on the eve of a new school year. Some were there for the information that driver education courses used to cover before they fell victim to school budget cuts, while others came because Pittsburg High made attendance a prerequisite for students hoping to get a campus parking permit.
Dubbed "Start Smart," the CHP's outreach to young drivers began in 2012 as a joint effort with 511 Contra Costa, a transportation agency that first brought the frank warnings to East Contra Costa in April when Fransen spoke at Liberty High School.
He rattles off accident statistics: 15- to 20-year-olds are not only most likely to die in collisions -- about 5,000 per year nationally -- but they cause two-thirds of all fatal accidents even though they comprise only 4 percent of the driving population.
Fransen also reminds audiences about the basic tenets of staying alive on the road: Don't follow other vehicles too closely or slam on the brakes to get a tailgater off your bumper, don't abruptly change lanes and don't drive to impress.
"We've got 40-year-olds, 50-year-olds still showing off to friends," he said.
He takes aim at parents as well, pointing out that they're placing a high-stakes bet on their child driving responsibly when they hand over the car keys. Not only is his or her life on the line, but so is their own financial future, Fransen said, explaining that attorneys seeking compensation for accident victims can go after parents' houses, life savings and wages if they have been supporting their child -- even one as old as 25 -- in any way.
But to illustrate the ultimate cost of driving recklessly he turns to visual props.
Many who fancy themselves amateur race car drivers don't consider that quick reactions can't always compensate for the distance a vehicle travels even after they slam on the brakes, Fransen says.
He does the math to hammer home the idea of traveling nearly the length of a football field after spotting a hazard: At 65 miles per hour, a car will cover 135 feet in the approximately 1.5 seconds it takes for the driver to react to a hazard. And even in the best possible scenario, the vehicle will continue another 165 feet before it comes to a complete stop.
Nor do daredevils realize that velocity multiplied by mass can be an equation for disaster, Fransen said, noting the havoc that a sudden impact can wreak on the human heart, neck and brain.
"We are fragile human beings. We only get one life," he said.
A slideshow of photos taken at fatal accident scenes illustrates his point.
There's the close-up of a man who lost his arm -- and his head -- while speeding on Vasco Road. He hit a Ford Expedition head-on, demolishing that vehicle as well as another and killing his three passengers.
There's the crumpled body of a motorcyclist who lost control of his bike while barreling down Highway 4 at what witnesses estimated was at least 90 miles per hour; he ended up with his torso wedged into the metal roll-up door of a truck.
And there's the caved-in head of a young driver who destroyed himself and a 17-year-old girl with a combination of alcohol and speed; the force of the impact crushed every bone in his face and splattered brain matter over the freeway.
The in-your-face gore was sobering even for Pittsburg High senior Kenny Garcia, whose said his father has emphasized the importance of driving carefully by showing him and his younger brother YouTube videos of actual crash sites.
"I came here for my parking permit, but after I've seen all this, my mentality has changed," said the 18-year-old, who earned his driver's license earlier this year. "It makes me learn from (others') mistakes. Life can change in a flash."
Reach Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.