During the past two years, 10 Columbia County teens have lost their lives in vehicle crashes.
Lakeside students wait in a line of traffic after the first day of school on August 3, 2005.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
With public school back in session, school officials estimate nearly 2,000 teens will be behind the wheel. In response to having so many teens on the road, officials are urging them to drive safely and intelligently.
"That's why we try to be very pro-active just to remind them of safe driving ... just trying to do the little things that we can to remind them that it's a huge responsibility to be a teenager behind the wheel of a car," Greenbrier High School Assistant Principal Doug Flowers said, adding that about 700 parking permits were sold to students last year, and the school's enrollment increased by more than 100 this school year.
Evans High School Assistant Principal Wayne Baker said that the school's lot includes 440 student parking spaces but that he thinks another 100 to 150 students park on nearby streets instead of in the lot.
Lakeside High School expects 375 to 400 students to hit the road headed to Lakeside, Principal Jeff Carney said.
Harlem High School boasts 439 student parking spaces, but sold 270 parking permits last school year, said Tammy Deckert, the discipline secretary over the sale of parking permits.
"I'm sure we'll have even more this year," she said. "We have a lot of underclassmen driving."
Columbia County sheriff's Lt. Butch Askew, of the Special Operations Division over the Traffic Unit, said he expects a rise in teen-related wrecks in congested areas around the schools.
"That's bad traffic anyway, and when you add a lot of inexperienced drivers into the mix, we see a rise (in collisions) once school starts back," Askew said, referring to the Greenbrier school zone surrounding Riverwood Parkway and William Few Parkway. "They are mainly fender-benders because, thank goodness, it's not that high because you really can't get up to speed in those areas because the traffic is so bad. The same around Evans High School on Cox Road. That seems to be one of our problem areas."
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages 15-20, according to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. On the basis of miles driven, teens are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers for three reasons: inexperience, risk-taking behavior and immaturity, and greater risk exposure.
Like any other skill, learning to drive well takes time.
"Parents need to understand that they have to give (teen drivers) practice," said Donnell Jones, the owner of Jones Driver Education in Martinez and a University of Georgia Parents Reducing Incidents of Driver Error instructor.
In his experience as a drivers education teacher, Jones said, he sees teens have problems with speeding and distractions while driving.
"It's speed," he said. "They have no concept of how fast they are going.''
Good driving comes with experience, which is why Jones supports the state's graduated driver's license process, which requires a year on the instructional permit and at least 40 hours of supervised driving, or 20 hours of supervised driving and 20 hours of drivers education, both to include at least six hours of night driving, before a teen driver receives an intermediate permit.
Having other teens in the car, talking on cell phones and fiddling with the radio are common distractions to teenage drivers. The graduated process prohibits teens with an intermediate license from having anyone except immediate family as passengers for the first six months, and also forbids driving between midnight and 6 a.m., Jones said.
These restrictions allow teens to gain valuable driving experience in a controlled, lower-risk setting, and they will be more mature when they get a full license at 18, at the earliest, according to the NHTSA.
Askew said seat belts might not always save a life, but in most cases wearing a seat belt will protect drivers and passengers.
Jones said most teens he deals with use seat belts.
"But what I find is that they don't think they have to buckle up if in the back seat," he said.
To teach driving safety, Safe Kids East Central and Jones Driver Education are holding Georgia Teen Ride with PRIDE from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, at Wesley United Methodist Church. The program, aimed at ages 14-16 and their parents, focuses on driver attitude, knowledge and behavior before the required supervised practice drive time. For more information or to sign up, call 721-5437.
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