SMITHFIELD — In a county once plagued by teenage driving deaths, a group of teens will hold a safe driving seminar next week in hopes of preventing teen deaths across the state.
JoCo Teen Drivers is holding the first N.C. Teen Driving Summit on April 20 at Johnston Community College. The focus of the summit is ending distracted driving, particularly practices such as sending text messages and talking on the phone while driving.
Charlie Parrish, the group’s chairman, said that has been the main culprit in teen fatalities in Johnston County over the years.
Experts “are calling distracted driving the new DWI for teens,” Parrish said.
JoCo Teen Drivers was formed in response to a rash of teen driving fatalities in Johnston County, which peaked at 11 in 2007, and is made up of high school students who encourage safe driving practices among their peers. The county’s narrow roads make distracted driving particularly dangerous, so the group has made that a big focus.
Its efforts appear to have helped reduce teen driving deaths, which have decreased steadily since 2007. There were two last year and one so far this year.
“If you look at the numbers, something’s happening,” said Zach Leonard, a senior at West Johnston High School and one of the group’s leaders.
The group’s strength is its peer-to-peer approach. High school students come up with campaigns, slogans, activities and demonstrations to show other students the perils of distracted driving. One of the main goals of the summit is to help teens in other parts of the state form similar organizations.
Mix 101.5 radio host Lynda Loveland and former UNC basketball player and coach Phil Ford will be the event’s emcees. Activities will include interactive booths, including distracted driving simulators.
Attendees also will hear from several speakers, including Joel Feldman, a Pennsylvania man whose daughter was killed in a texting-while-driving accident in 2011, and Lisa Mozingo, a Goldsboro woman paralyzed in a car accident in 2009.
One teen will be awarded a $500 scholarship, Parrish said.
So far, according to Parrish, about 100 people have signed up, including representatives from Wake, Cumberland and Orange counties. Parrish said it could be a starting point to affect greater change in the state.
“We may want to write some of this down and send it to the governor,” he said.