Local News

Highway Patrol to educate teenagers about safe driving

Posted February 22, 2009 6:09 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:13 p.m. EDT

— Traffic collisions are the leading cause of teenage deaths in North Carolina. In the last four years, 554 teenagers have been killed in crashes investigated by the state Highway Patrol. This week, troopers will be conducting "Operation Drive to Live" to reduce the number of teenage-related traffic collisions.

Some collisions involving teenage drivers occur during their commute to and from high school, and speed remains the leading cause of crashes.

Speed was blamed for a crash last year that killed a Benson teen.

”I still look for Drew to come home,” mother Lisa Smith said.

Steven "Drew" Smith, 17, and Dennis Dewitt, also 17, were on their way to a turkey shoot when Dewitt's truck drove off Zacks Mill Road, near N.C. Highway 50, on October 31.

Smith died at the scene. Paramedics took Dewitt to WakeMed, where he was treated and released. Dewitt was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle and exceeding a safe speed.

Lisa Smith also claims that the vehicle's tires had no tread.

“People always say, 'Had I known then what I know now, Drew would not have been in the vehicle,'” Lisa Smith said.

Johnston County leads the state in the number of 15- to 24-year-olds who die in in automobile crashes. In 2007, 11 teenagers died in car wrecks.

Smithfield Mayor Norman Johnson helped organize a four-hour Alive at 25 program last year at town hall. Speakers addressed drinking and driving and talking and texting behind the wheel.

The Highway Patrol will lead similar safety education programs this week and will be enforcing traffic laws around the schools.

Lisa Smith said she wants teenagers to realize the privilege of driving comes with responsibility.

Life “can be snatched away from you at the drop of a hat,” she said.

In 2004, North Carolina ranked fifth in the nation for teenage-related automobile deaths.