Four teenagers. Four drunk driving accidents. Four lives forever changed. The documentary that told their stories shocked me and the other teenagers who saw it as part of the curriculum of our summer driver’s ed course at East Chapel Hill High School.
While some people may assume that driver’s ed would be tedious, I was surprised by how effective it was. The documentary, which depicted drunken driving and texting while driving, graphically illustrated how one decision can destroy a person’s future.
Less than 48 hours after I finished the course, the things I saw in that documentary became real in Orange County. According to police accounts, a young man from Asheboro – and a rising junior at UNC – was driving drunk, crossed over the median of I-85 and collided head-on with another car in the early morning hours that Sunday. Two Charlotte-area women and a 6-year-old girl were killed in the crash, and a 9-year-old girl was injured. According to official and eyewitness reports, the underage driver had been drinking at two bars in Chapel Hill. Five friends had tried to stop him from getting behind the wheel. He reportedly knocked one of them down he was so determined to drive.
This driver, only five years older than I am, now faces three counts of felony death by motor vehicle and one count of felony serious injury by motor vehicle, in addition to charges of driving while impaired, driving the wrong way on an interstate, careless and reckless driving, driving after consuming alcohol as a minor, possession of alcohol by a minor and having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle. Bond was set at $1 million.
The driver’s mother sat in the courtroom, sobbing, while the district attorney described the case against him. Not only has that young man destroyed his own future and the lives of three innocent people and their families, but he also has shattered his own family and broken his mother’s heart.
To my astonishment, the N.C. Senate recently proposed cutting driver’s ed from the state budget and – to my greater astonishment – removing the requirement that students take driver’s ed to get a learner’s permit. From my very recent experience, driver’s ed is most effective not just for teaching the rules of the road, but also for showing students real-life stories of teenagers whose lives have been forever altered by drunk driving or texting-while-driving.
Cutting driver’s ed is a big mistake. Many teenagers will be forced to pay for the class and the training themselves, and that means many disadvantaged students will wait until age 18, when they are allowed to take a learner’s permit test without having to take driver’s ed. Instead of trained driving instructors and police officers teaching our youngest drivers, many will be self-taught or taught by family or friends.
Before I took this course, I never would have imagined the long-term effects of drunk driving. People my age do not talk about this subject. Most teens focus on the fun and freedom that driving represents and not about the dangers and responsibilities that come with it. After taking this course, I realize how one bad decision can forever ruin someone’s life.
I strongly urge state lawmakers to weigh the perspectives of teenagers. We will all be safer if as many drivers as possible have taken driver’s ed.
Kevin Huang of Chapel Hill is a student at East Chapel Hill High.