Panel offers recommendations on teen-driving safety
Posted May 3, 2010 4:44 p.m. EDT
Updated May 3, 2010 10:53 p.m. EDT
Smithfield, N.C. — A steering committee studying teen-driving safety presented a six-point plan Monday to the Johnston County Board of Commissioners on how to reduce the number of automotive fatalities among young people in the county.
The plan includes new awareness campaigns, redesigning driver's education courses to include practice simulators and urging lawmakers to increase license requirements.
For example, the committee recommended increasing the required six hours of behind-the-wheel training before a student can pass a driver's education course.
It also recommended that parents spend at least 50 hours with their children driving. Other recommendations include prohibiting young drivers from driving after dark and revoking licenses for citations such as speeding, texting and talking on cellular phones.
"We won't ever solve it fully, but we're hitting it from all different angles," said Lynda Carroll, who sits on the steering committee. "That's how we're going to start."
At the commissioners' meeting, concerned parents called for additional safety measures, including a larger police presence around high schools.
"We need police presence. We need them to enforce the speed limit,” parent Tammy Wood said.
The committee is also urging drivers to call the North Carolina Department of Transportation with concerns about problem roads.
"We want to review that data and work closely with DOT requesting improved road conditions in Johnston County," Carroll said.
According to the committee, 42 teenagers have died in wrecks in Johnston County over the past six years.
The latest death was last Wednesday, when Jesse Ferrell, 16, a sophomore at South Johnston High School, lost control of his truck while trying to pass two vehicles.
Ferrell's father, Jamie, said Monday that teenagers often don't realize the dangers of the road.
"At that age, kids think they are invincible, they all do,” Jamie Ferrell said.
The father said he hopes his son's death will have an impact on young drivers.
"For his death not to go in vain, for people to learn, wake up. If that is what it is, that is what it is,” Jamie Ferrell said.
Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell says deputies are constantly seeing the same problems – even among teens attending Ferrell's funeral.
"From the funeral home to the grave yard, students are racing, passing each other," Bizzell said. "They're not getting the message, but they are fixing to get it."
The steering committee's recommendations come the same day as the North Carolina Highway Patrol launched an intensive two-week initiative aimed at teen drivers called Operation Drive to Live 2010.
"Too many teens have been killed in traffic collisions in this area," Highway Patrol Commander Col. Randy Glover said at a kickoff event Monday in Smithfield. "We have to put a stop to it."
Deputies are getting tougher too, Bizzell said.
"The warning citations are over. It's going to be tickets to teens until they get the message to slow down," he said.