SMITHFIELD, N.C. — The Town of Smithfield is sponsoring a defensive-driving course for young drivers in an effort to combat the number of teens killed in car wrecks.
Johnston County leads the state in the number of fatalities of 15- to 24-year-olds in automobile crashes. Last year, 11 teenagers died in car wrecks.
Several more have died this year, most recently 17-year-old Steven "Drew" Smith, who was killed Oct. 31 in a wreck on Zacks Mill Road near N.C. Highway 50. Speed was a factor in the crash, authorities said.
Thirty-three young drivers attended the four-hour Alive at 25 program Thursday night at town hall. Speakers addressed drinking and driving and talking and texting behind the wheel. The group was also shown images of real accident scenes.
“If you were a passenger in that vehicle, what would you have done?” asked Mel Harmon, the N.C. Industrial Commission’s defensive driving and work zone traffic instructor.
The message was personal for Dani Winstead, 17, who was friends with Smith.
“It has been a lot of tears. A lot of hardship and just a big struggle,” Winstead said.
Winstead worries some teens are not getting the message.
“We see everything from underage drinking and driving to simple things like running stop signs and stoplights,” Winstead said.
The Alive at 25 program is free for anyone 16 to 19, though each student has to pay $5.50 for instructional materials. The town is offering two more classes
on Nov. 18 and Dec. 9. To register, or for more information, contact the town at 919-934-2116.
The course is also available through the Safety and Health Council of North Carolina at 17 community colleges across the state, including Raleigh, Clinton, Charlotte and Wilmington. More information is available by calling 919-209-2213. The cost is $50.
Starting Dec. 1, the course will become mandatory for those cited for a motor-vehicle violation in Johnston County.
Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle said Tuesday she hopes that requiring drivers under 21 to take it will help reduce the number of teenage driving-related deaths and accidents in the county.