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Deputies provide teen driver education
Free classes fulfill required 30 hours of teaching
Deputy Jason Hunter of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office shows Darian Webb how to change a tire during a teen driver safety course. Teens are required to complete a driver education course in order to receive a license. - photo by Tom Reed
Like most new drivers, getting behind the wheel with mom or dad in the car isn’t exactly the most relaxing of experiences for 15-year-old Lauren Gregory.

"It’s kind of stressful driving with them," Gregory said.

The local high school student says she’ll feel a little more confident in the car with them now that she has taken a 30-hour teen driver safety program administered by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.

"When I was first driving and I didn’t know what to do, I had to look to my parents," she said. "But I think I can make some decisions on my own after this."

The sheriff’s teen driver course isn’t new, but the curriculum taught and the certifications awarded this year are. For the first time, Hall County’s sheriff’s deputies are able to certify teens for fulfilling the provisions of "Joshua’s Law," which requires teens to take 30 hours of classroom instruction and 40 hours of driving supervised by a parent before they are granted a Class D driver’s license at age 16.

The state law, which went into effect in January 2007, was inspired by the 2003 traffic death of Cartersville teen Joshua Brown, who was killed after his car hydroplaned on a wet, two-lane road. Brown’s parents lobbied for changes in driver education, arguing his fatal wreck might have been prevented had he been taught how to react.

Previously, teens only could get the instruction required by the law through private driving academies. The sheriff’s office teaches the course for free through sponsorships from Greene Ford, Milton Martin Honda, Longstreet Cafe and Ready Ice. Free Chapel provides the instruction space at its youth services campus on McEver Road.

About 240 teens will go through the course this summer in six classes with maximum class sizes of 40 students each.

Hall County Deputy Vic Gazaway, a school resource officer and one of six deputies teaching the program, said among the biggest items he covers is avoiding distractions like cell phones, radios and turning to talk to back-seat occupants.

"Every wreck I worked with a young driver, it was always one of those three things," he said.

Students also learned about basic maintenance like changing a tire and took a few laps around a traffic cone course in a golf cart while wearing goggles that simulated drunk driving. Several cones got crushed as a result, Gazaway said.

The students are not given on-the-road instruction in cars because of liability issues for the sheriff’s office, Maj. Jeff Strickland said. The behind-the-wheel experience is left up to the parents, who must include at least six hours of night driving.

But officials hope the coursework they cover, which is heavy on the requirements of the new law, gives teens a solid foundation in the rules of the road.

"We leave no stone unturned," Gazaway said. "They get a lot of information in a five-day period."

Karey Loggins, a North Hall High School student who turns 16 in September, said the course makes her feel more independent.

"You have to be extremely careful, and you can’t feel invincible," Loggins said. "You can die in a second."

Student Darian Webb, 15, said that with the required driving course, "my parents feel I’m a lot safer."

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