Local News

Johnston County aims to put brakes on teen driving deaths

Posted September 29, 2008

— Car crashes claimed the lives of 11 Johnston County teenagers in 2007 and several more this year. On Monday, leaders in Smithfield announced plans to put the brakes on further fatal crashes.

Smithfield Mayor Norman Johnson debuted the "Alive at 25" program to offer free defensive driving courses to county teens. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds and Johnston County is leading the state in those numbers.

"Due to the high number of teenage fatalities on the roadways we have to do something," Norman said in announcing the program.

"Alive at 25" is a four-hour class open to Johnston County residents ages 16 to 19 years old. The first class will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. on Nov. 6. Teens or their parents should call the Town of Smithfield at 919-934-2116 to sign up for the class.

There will be a $5.50 charge for class materials which will be waived for low-income families. If the classes prove popular, more will be scheduled, Norman said.

The State Highway Patrol announced its own program Monday, "Drive to Live," which will include an enforcement crackdown around schools.

In 2007, Johnston County led the state with 11 fatalities. Neighboring Harnett County had two fatalities, while Wake and Wayne counties each had one, and two Wake teens died in a Chatham County crash.

Speed is a factor in the majority of the car crashes killing teens in Johnston County, according to the Highway Patrol.

Johnston County law enforcement officials say the number of auto-related teen deaths is alarming.

“We love the youth in our community, and (we) are going to do everything in our power to keep them here with us,” said Capt. Bengie Gaddis with the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office after the most recent crash on Sept. 17.

Then, Brandon Lee Baker, 21, and Matthew Brandon Stewart, 17, died after their green Saturn crossed the center line on Fellowship Church Road and hit a Jeep driven by Rosa Wilson, 80.

Stewart is the fourth Princeton senior to die in a car crash in the past 12 months. Baker was a graduate of Princeton.

A helicopter and two ambulances took Wilson and the Saturn’s driver and other passenger – also Princeton students – to a hospital. Nathan Pearson, 17, was the driver and Codie McConnell, 17, was the other passenger.

Pearson was still in the hospital Monday. He was listed in good condition. McConnell had been released from WakeMed.

Wilson was in serious condition after undergoing surgery at Duke University Medical Center.


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  • My3centsworth Sep 29, 2008

    The answer is really rather simple. Zero tolerance by law enforcement for ANY motor vehicle violation and absolutely no leniency by the judicial system. get a citation, get tried for that offense, no plea bargaining, no traffic school no nothing. After a few months and the word gets around younger drivers, 16-24, will be considerable more aware of their driving in regards to following the letter of the law.

  • twc Sep 29, 2008

    It is about the proper training AND experience. If you never experience running off the pavement until accident time you are more likely to over correct. They need to experience for themselves the feel and sound of hitting a rough shoulder, for example, in order to learn that they shouldn't jerk the car back on the pavement too quick.

    Many other examples could be given of things they can learn in a controlled environment that may save their lives later.

    The current training IS INADEQUATE!!!!!! PERIOD!!!!!

  • annemarek Sep 29, 2008

    Parents have tried to prevent their children getting killed since the time people started driving. How is the government going to stop these deaths?

  • Centurian Sep 29, 2008

    The Clayton Police Department has been sponsoring this class at Clayton High since last year!

  • Mike128 Sep 29, 2008

    Driving simulators are another good way to learn the basics. The biggest draw back to them is that the driver has no "feel" for what the car is doing. You can't get a good sense of how much traction the tires have and that's the key to being able to know that you're reaching the limit and react quickly.

    Cars just don't go out of control by themselves. There's plenty of warning available IF the driver understands what to be looking for.

    IMHO, Age has less to do with maturity then experience does. A 17 year old has a year of driving experience and generally doesn't make the same mistakes a new driver does. I know plenty of "adults" who act like 10 year olds when they don't get what they want. Another example would be kids of overbearing parents who didn't let their kids make any decisions till they leave for college. Those are the ones that tend to go wild once out from under the parents control.

  • WhatWereOnceVicesAreNowHabits Sep 29, 2008

    It's not about age it's about competence.

    Many young drivers possess the skills necessary to operate a motor vehicle safely.

    While many drivers @ 30, 40, 50 + do not.

  • Common Sense Man Sep 29, 2008

    "To me the problem rest squarely on Mom and Dads shoulders. They should not turn loose their children if they do not feel that they understand consequences."

    Mom/Dad can't be their 24/7. I did just fine in driver's ED and driving with my parents. When I got out on my own I really made some stupid and dangerous driving decisions. Luckily I never got in a wreck and killed or hurt anyone. I was a good kid who never got in trouble. My parents would have had nothing to do with it.

  • Common Sense Man Sep 29, 2008

    "They should make cell phone usage against the law while driving."

    It is illegal for 16-17 year olds to use a phone while driving, but not for everyone else.

  • superman Sep 29, 2008

    One important issue has never been resolved and our legislature fails to address it-- the issue is cell phones. They should make cell phone usage against the law while driving. I would much prefer to have the drunk drivers on the road than the millions of people who drive and talk on the cell phone. I was almost hit yestereday in the parking lot at the grocery store because a young driver was on the phone. You can show films, talk all you want and people still will make mistakes in judgment. Driver training, films, etc. may be good-- but it never will replace the driver who is alert and driving in a safe manner. By the way-- you cant stop a train. People will continue to speed and drive reckless. Just do the best that you can with your teen. More laws is not the answer.

  • justlistentome Sep 29, 2008

    "Raising the driving age will not solve anything, all that does is postpone the problem."

    WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. The death rate at age 17 drops by like a thousand percent. Look it up.
    This has way more to do with maturity than with experience.
    Parents need to have the guts to tell their children no. It would save lives.