Replacing a driver's license with a school bus.
A teenager appears before Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan for a traffic violation. The judge imposes driver's license suspensions to open teens' eyes to the perils of driving.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
It's a strategy Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan uses often during a day of juvenile traffic court in Columbia County.
"If I take your license, you have to walk across the courtroom and I have a yellow school bus (with the top cut out), and you have to drop your suspended license into the yellow school bus because that is what you are going to be riding," Judge Flanagan said in a recent hearing, which occurs monthly for juvenile drivers up to age 17.
Flanagan said he believes the embarrassment for a teen to trade their car for the school bus might convince them to be more responsible behind the wheel.
"I see careless driving behavior," Flanagan said. "I see mainly for young children, that they have not been driving a long time. They don't understand the stopping distance that it really takes in a vehicle and they don't quite have control of the vehicle yet that they think they do. They feel invulnerable."
Kari Poss, the traffic coordinator for Columbia County Juvenile Court, said the court's traffic division saw 257 cases in 2004, a figure that increased 11 percent from 2003. The 2004 cases included 109 speeding violations, three DUIs and 67 violations of the Teenage and Adult Driver Responsibility Act.
TADRA is a three-step process. New young drivers start at a restricted level, which forbids teens between 16 and 18 from driving between midnight and 6 a.m. and prohibits them from driving with non-family members under 21 for the first six months. With a good record, teens can move to an intermediate license with fewer restrictions, and then to an unrestricted adult license.
Columbia County Deputy Anthony Streetman and Juvenile Court Traffic Coordinator Kari Poss stand behind a toy school bus in Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan's court. When teenagers' driver's licenses are suspended, the teens place their licenses in the school bus to indicate how they will be getting to school without a license.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"My goal as the traffic coordinator is to get kids to understand that driving is a privilege, not a right," Poss said. "We don't want to see any more deaths in Columbia County by juveniles that are inexperienced drivers."
William Ryan Howell, 17, of Evans, who died in a single-car traffic accident on Feb. 27, brings the county's total number of teens killed in traffic wrecks to 10 in less than two years.
Speeding and having other teen passengers in the car are the most common violations committed by teen drivers, Poss said.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more teens die in single-car wrecks than any other age group. More teen fatal crashes occur when passengers, usually other teens, are in the car than do crashes involving older drivers, and a third of teens who died as passengers are in vehicles driven by teens.
"We hope if using the school bus deters them from speeding or from riding with other kids in the car during the first six months, it might save a life," Poss said, adding that parents need to monitor their child's driving behavior before letting them get behind the wheel on their own.
Though some violations, such as DUI, speeding in a school zone, passing a school bus and vehicular homicide, result in an automatic license suspension, Flanagan said he often suspends teen licenses for lesser violations.
"I have to get their attention that this is serious," Flanagan said, adding that some parents say they have already punished their children while others act as though coming to court is an imposition. "It's hard work being a good parent. ... It's a lot easier to give them the car keys and let them run wild ... But a good parent needs to supervise their children."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.