Schools focus on safety for teen drivers
Programs aim to save lives

CONYERS - Students across Georgia focused on safe driving this past week as a part of National Teen Driving Safety Week.

While some programs included fun activities, they also brought serious messages.

In Rockdale County, the week started off with the Georgia Traffic Injury Prevention Institute in Conyers partnering with the Conyers Police Department and the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office to give out Chick-fil-A coupons to high school students who were wearing seat belts.

At the end of the school day Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, officials set up shop with the Chick-fil-A cow to see if students were buckled up. The drivers and passengers who were buckled up received a coupon, but those who weren't were given a simulated ticket.

"Surprisingly, most of the kids were buckled up, and the ones who were not were usually passengers," said Dana Porter, program coordinator at the GTIPI, adding that they checked about 160 students and only about 20 were unbuckled.

Later in the week, school officials and those from the GTIPI presented a program to students at the Rockdale Career Academy.

"We felt it was important to bring someone in and talk to students about speeding and safe driving and wearing seat belts," said Ben McCumber, public safety instructor at RCA. "It's a terrible blow when you lose a student to something like a traffic accident. It's an avoidable event and to lose somebody so young ... is such a tragedy."

Officials focused on the importance of wearing a seat belt the correct way but also discussed how students could lose their licenses, how alcohol impairs driving, crash dynamics, making the right choices and distractions, such as talking on cell phones, texting, DVD players, changing the radio station, eating, smoking and other friends.

They also showed a video about distractions, and students had a chance to ask questions and tell stories about traffic accidents.

"If they don't remember anything else, they need to remember that they always need to make sure everybody wears their seat belt correctly and to be safe and responsible drivers," Porter said. "They do this by limiting distractions, getting more practice time when they are getting their learners and not being afraid to be different than their friends. ... If your friends are doing something they aren't supposed to be doing, do not be afraid to get out of a car. ... It's about making the right decisions."

McCumber said Rockdale County has lost several students over the past few years to driving accidents, so he believes students understand the dangers and care about what teachers and others try to tell them about safe driving.

"It's just as painful every time for the community and students (when a teen dies in a traffic accident), so I think they see a need for (driving safety education)," he said.

Since state laws now require that adults affirm that their teen driver completed 40 hours of supervised driving experience, including six hours at night, the GTIPI is starting a PRIDE - Parents Reducing Injuries and Driver Error - effort.

Rockdale County already has held its PRIDE course, and the Newton County Sheriff's Office is working with GTIPI to offer a free two-hour PRIDE seminar, funded by a grant from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

The program will help parents and guardians become more aware of their own driving and teach them how to help their teens become safe drivers and help parents and teens learn what they need to do during their practice driving time.

"Newton County ... offers unique driving situations and problems for first-time drivers," said NCSO Sgt. Randy Downs.

The program is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Nov. 14 at Eastside High School, which is located at 10245 Eagle Drive in Covington. A teen and at least one parent must register by calling the NCSO at 678-625-1404 or e-mailing rdowns@newtonsheriffga.org. A registration form also is available at the NCSO headquarters on Alcovy Road. The deadline for registration is Nov. 4.

Also this week, the Georgia Department of Transportation announced that it launched a new Web site for teen drivers and their parents. Teen Driving Safety 101 is available by visiting www.dot.ga.gov/teendriving. It provides information about driving laws, safety tips and travel information for teen driving safety.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: Teen driving statistics

· Teens make up 10 percent of the population and account for more than 12 percent of motor vehicle accident deaths.

· Teen drivers have dangerous distractions up to 80 percent of the time they are driving.

· Twenty percent of those killed in car crashes are killed by unsecured objects in the vehicles, usually unsecured passengers.

· Safety belts increase the chance of survival in a crash by 45 percent.

· When there are three or more teens in a vehicle, it is 187 times more likely there will be a crash.

· In Georgia, more than 200 teen drivers and passengers are killed each year in car crashes.

Compiled by the Georgia Traffic Injury Prevention Institute