Local News

Teens learning serious driving with fun, hands-on program

Posted April 28, 2012 7:15 p.m. EDT
Updated April 29, 2012 9:32 a.m. EDT

A recent report by the Governor's Highway Safety Association ranks North Carolina second in the country for the number of 16- and 17-year-olds killed in automobile accidents. A local program called StreetSafe is working hard to bring those numbers down.

"It's going to be something they don't want to do off the bat, and they're going to think it's a terrible idea," said Sgt. Joe Fitzgerald of the Wilmington Police Department and StreetSafe instructor. "But they'll get great experience, they'll learn a lot, and at the end of the day, they're going to have fun, too."

StreetSafe, a nonprofit organization created by a retired police officer, takes a hands-on approach to teaching young drivers best road practices and extends the education to the dangers of drug and alcohol use while behind the wheel. The teens are supervised by law enforcement and fire personnel certified to operate vehicles under dangerous or emergency conditions.

One such demonstration has drivers attempt to operate a golf cart while wearing goggles that simulate being intoxicated. Through wheel-bending turns, teens learn first-hand how easy it is to lose control.

Although some of the exercises might be fun, the people at the StreetSafe teen driving program say there is a serious purpose – and parents agree.

"I experienced something like this when I was the kids' age, and my best friend died when I was 17," said Martin Burke, the father of a teenager in the program. "I recognize what these kids could potentially see, and it's powerful. That car is a weapon."

While some teenagers take the course because they were directed by their parents, others realize being safe behind the wheel shouldn't stop at driver's ed.

"I try to drive safe, but I'm just inexperienced," said Apex High School student Ryan Rackliff. "So it's good to learn some stuff out here."

Roughly 130 students and their parents went through Saturday's program at Apex High School. Johnston County will host another StreetSafe program in May.