Ride along during the Streetsafe Lifesaving Driving Experience at Green Hope High School
Traffic cones and an inflatable dummy named Johnny were flying around Green Hope High School’s parking lot Saturday as dozens of young drivers witnessed firsthand the consequences of unsafe driving.
Bellowing instructors telling their students to send texts or change the radio station as they negotiated sharp curves or changed lanes helped demonstrate what can happen when you’re driving while distracted. It was part of a four-hour learning experience that organizers of StreetSafe Lifesaving Driving Experience hope the drivers won’t forget when they’re behind the wheel.
“We’re trying to tell them that speed kills,” said Ronald Johnson, Wake County coordinator of StreetSafe, a nonprofit group based in Wilmington. “The faster you go, the harder it is to stop.”
StreetSafe hosts hands-on driving sessions in 24 North Carolina counties, and the organization says there’s been a 25 percent decrease in teen driver crashes in regions where sessions are conducted monthly. Many of Saturday’s drivers were referred to the program after receiving tickets for motor-vehicle violations.
The program is especially timely now, with AAA dubbing the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day “the 100 deadliest days” when teen crash fatalities historically climb. StreetSafe plans to reach out to 2,000 young drivers and their parents over the summer with their sessions.
Saturday’s session opened with Garrett Prince sharing how as a 16-year-old student at Raleigh’s Millbrook High School in 2012 he was driving drunk when his Jeep hit a tree. He survived but 17-year-old Elizabeth Molloy, a passenger, was killed.
“I killed one of my best friends, and there’s no way that you can ever take that back,” Prince said. “Like they said, that’s something you have to live with for your entire life.”
The 65 young drivers alternated between watching videos and doing hands-on activities that included driving through obstacle courses. The instructors included police officers and firefighters.
“It will make you stop and think the next time before you get out on the road,” said Ashley Micheal, 20, of Garner, who was participating in the program.
In one exercise, the drivers were shown the effect of hydroplaning – when water on the road leads to loss of traction. On a slick road, many drivers tried to stop before they plowed into a dummy.
“A lot of it you’ve heard before, but it’s good to hear it again,” said John-Mark Hales, 22, of Clayton. “You reconsider your thoughts on driving.”
While the drivers were in their classes, their parents were getting schooled about the insurance ramifications of having young drivers on their policies.
Denise Webster of Pittsboro stayed after the insurance class to watch her 17-year-old son, Aaron, run through the driving exercises. Webster said she’s glad her son – who slammed into a tree while going 75 mph – was required to attend the program.
“I think it’s amazing,” Webster said of the StreetSafe program. “They should incorporate this in driver’s education because driver’s ed is nothing in this state.”
State lawmakers are considering doing away with the driver’s education requirement for young drivers and instead requiring more time for teens behind the wheel with a parent.
“It’s crazy,” said James Stevens, 19, of Cary. “I’d rather them have driver’s ed than none at all.”
Go to streetsafeus.com/ to learn more about the StreetSafe Lifesaving Driving Experience.