Doug Darrell, a former New York police officer, will never forget the reaction he got from a mother when he had to tell her that her son had died in a car accident.
The woman collapsed in his arms, pressing her full weight against him. Then she cried.
Darrell has only had to investigate a few car fatalities involving a teen driver, but the reactions from the parents linger in his mind. His sister-in-law also died in a car crash 37 years ago, and Darrell sees the effect it continues to have on his mother-in-law, now in her 80s.
“I think about that all the time and what parents go through,” he said. “Crashes are horrible but teen crashes are worse, because that kid didn’t have to go through that.”
Darrell retired from the force in the 1997. Nervous about his son getting his license, he came up with an idea to start a nonprofit in Wilmington to teach teens and their parents the importance of teen driving safety.
The StreetSafe program finally got off the ground in 2007 in New Hanover County. Since then it has expanded to other counties, including Wake.
More than 60 teens and their parents attended the program at Green Hope High School on Saturday. The students got behind the wheels of cars with their instructors in the passenger seats and felt what it was like to be out of control. Their tires screeched as they pressed the brakes, knocking over cones.
“I think I learned a lot about being aware that other people are important too,” Anna Broich, 17, a student at Green Hope High School, said. “It’s not just about you when you’re driving.”
The students participated in a discussion session and heard Garrett Prince tell about a crash he was involved in where he killed another person because he was driving distracted.
“What we try to do is not lecture the kids,” Kayne Darrell, Doug’s wife and StreetSafe co-founder, said. “The idea is to make sure they are having fun. We don’t want to talk down to them. It’s also a great way for especially cops to interact with these kids on a different level than the uniform and gun and authoritativeness.”
While the students are on the course or in the classroom, their parents are in a room learning about insurance costs and how to take control of their child’s driving.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2013, 2,163 teens in the U.S. between ages 16 and 19 were killed, and 243,243 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes. Crash risk is at its highest when teens first get their licenses.
Memorial Day starts what is known as the 100 deadliest days for teen drivers. More teens are involved in car crashes from Memorial Day through Labor Day than at any other time of the year, according to the National Safety Council.
The StreetSafe program serves 24 counties in North Carolina.
Police officers and firefighters from around the Triangle served as instructors Saturday. Ronald Johnson, an officer with the Smithfield Police Department, has served as an instructor since StreetSafe came to Johnston County seven years ago. He said because he was a resource officer, teen driving hits home for him.
“Working in the schools, you see kids that have died in a car,” Johnson said. “It may be only one a year, but it still damages a community. And it’s something that is big on the kids and hurts the teachers.”
Doug Darrell recommends parents take control of their children’s driving – for instance, showing them how to get around town, and giving them the responsibility of changing the oil, paying for gas and insurance and keeping the car clean. He said parents should make sure they know where their children are going.
“If we could just convince parents to take control, we could change the entire dynamic of kids dying in crashes,” he said. “Kids don’t have to die in cars.”