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Parents and teens take driving class to reduce crashes
Students learn deadly lesson of texting while driving
1230 TEEN DRIVING 0005
Students participate in a driver simulation during a Parents Reducing Injuries and Driver Error class at the Lumpkin County Recreation Department. The class is open to teens and their parents in Lumpkin and White counties and Gainesville. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Parents Reducing Injuries and Driver Error

When: 6 p.m. Jan. 27, Feb. 24, March 24, April 28 and May 26

Where: Lumpkin County Parks and Recreation, 365 Riley Road, Dahlonega

How much: Free

Contact: 770-866-8146, gateenpride@gmail.com or www.ridesafegeorgia.org

By the numbers

No. 1 killer of teens: Motor vehicle crashes

Leading causes of death for people 3 to 34: Motor vehicle crashes

23 percent: Number of car crashes more likely to occur while texting and driving and distracted driving

160: Number of fatalities on record from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day in 2013

Four teens were handed faux steering wheels and asked to pull their phones out. Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jonathan Fitzpatrick then asked them to remember a simple line they would text to a random friend, “The movie starts at 6.”

Wheel in one hand and cellphone in the other, the teens take off down a quiet neighborhood road projected on the wall.

After students were told to start texting, instructor Fitzpatrick tosses in a picture of a small boy on the same quiet road and then quickly shows the road empty again to give the illusion the teens ran the boy over.

Startled, the teens, who had not yet finished texting their first word, asked what they hit.

Then the teens learned the harsh truth; it was little boy.

The visual lesson was part of the two-hour Parents Reducing Injuries and Driver Error class, in which students learn about the responsibility of getting behind the wheel of a car.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, sending and receiving a text takes a person’s eyes off the road for almost five seconds, which is equal to driving the length of a football field at 55 mph.

“Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens,” Fitzpatrick said. “And motor vehicle crashes are the leading causes of death for people ages 3 to 34.”

The free class is a visual and virtual classroom driving course that takes place once a month in Lumpkin County. The course addresses driver attitude, knowledge and behavior.

“The benefits are rewarding,” Fitzpatrick said. “If your child can take something from this and it impacts their life and they make positive decisions based upon something they have learned in this class and it saves their life, you are directly responsible for that.”

Teens learned car accidents are 23 percent more likely to occur when texting and driving and distracted driving is just as dangerous as drunken driving.

The most deadly accidents happen in July, August and October, according to records. However, Georgia had 160 fatalities from Thanksgiving until New  Year’s last year. It equals about four fatalities a day, said Harris Blackwood, director of the governor’s office of highway safety.

With New Year’s Eve on Wednesday, and the number of traffic accident deaths significantly lower than last year, Blackwood said he hopes to keep the number down.

“There are plans for road checks all over the state and we’re looking forward to keeping the number of fatalities down by strong enforcement,” he said.

Blackwood acknowledged New Year’s is a celebratory time and said he wants everyone to have fun, but people also need to be cautious.

“We are not discouraging anyone from having a good time but just as someone would plan what they are going to wear, what they are going to take to the party, they also need a plan how they are going to get home,” the Gainesville resident said.

Along with planning, Blackwood said drivers need to put their seat belts on, focus on the road, watch out for other drivers and limit their distractions, such as turning down the music and putting the cellphone away.

“We’ve had too many cases where we’ve have had to stand at an open grave of teenagers who have been killed because of texting and driving,” he said. “Your text message is not worth your life.”

For drivers younger than 18, it is against the law for them to use their phone for any reason while driving. For drivers younger than 21, it is against the law to have any trace of alcohol and drive.

“Any trace of alcohol can get you a DUI,” Blackwood said. “You’ll be written a ticket for DUI, you’ll spend a little bit of time in jail and there is a picture made of you, you don’t want on Facebook.”

If you are on the road and you see someone driving out of control, not maintaining his or her lane, dial *477 to reach the closest Georgia State Patrol post.

“Perhaps the GSP can catch that person and get them off the road and keep them from endangering their lives and the lives of others,” Blackwood said.

As for the P.R.I.D.E. class, Fitzpatrick said he hopes to share a message that will affect the life of someone between the ages of 13 and 21 and his or her parents and make everyone a defensive driver instead of a distracted driver.

“If you give (your child) the education, they are more apt to do it right,” Fitzpatrick said.

The next class is at 6 p.m. Jan. 27 at the Lumpkin County Parks and Recreation building, 365 Riley Road, Dahlonega.

“Three to 4 hours out of your day at most, if it could save your child’s life, what better benefit could you get from (the class)?” Fitzpatrick said.

For more information on the free class, call 770-866-8146, email gateenpride@gmail.com, or visit www.ridesafegeorgia.org.

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