WARNER ROBINS -- Parents wanting to learn about teen driving laws and how to best prepare their teens for the roadway may benefit from a free class being offered by Warner Robins police.
The two-hour course -- known as the Georgia Teens Ride with PRIDE (Parents Reducing Injuries & Driver Errors) program -- is scheduled for 6:30-8:30 p.m. April 3 at the Warner Robins campus of Middle Georgia State College at 100 University Blvd.
We believe that this class will also help those teenagers and those parents make good decisions on what to do while driving, how to avoid distractions and how to make sure we can reduce the number of injuries or crashes that are associated with young teen drivers, said Tabitha Clark, public information officer for police.
During the course, parents will learn about what to do during supervised, practice driving time and receive a take-home guide. Meanwhile, the teens, ages 14-16, will participate in a roundtable discussion about risky driving behaviors.
The class is designed to complement driver education and training. But it is not a replacement nor does it count toward the driver education requirement.
Developed in 2003 by the Georgia Traffic Injury Prevention Institute, the aim of the course is to reduce teen crashes, injuries and deaths.
Any tool we can put in our arsenal that helps educate young drivers -- that we can talk to them about the dangers of texting and driving and other distractions, about stopping distances, making sure you dont have too many passengers in the car -- is a positive, said Harris Blackwood, director of the Georgia Governors Office of Highway Safety. The ultimate training is to have them behind the wheel of a car.
Teen crash fatalities
A snapshot of teen driving from the national Governors Highway Safety Administration found deaths among 16- and 17-year-old drivers were up 19 percent between the first six months of 2011 and the first six months of 2012. However, Georgia was among 17 states that showed a decline. Twenty-five states had an increase, while there was no change for eight states plus the District of Columbia.
Nationwide, an increase of 38 deaths was recorded during the reporting period with a total of 240 teen deaths in the first six months of 2012. Georgia showed a decrease of one for a total of five teen crash deaths.
However, when more recent annual crash statistics of teenagers ages 15 to 19 are compared, Georgia shows an increase of 26 teen deaths from 2012 to 2013, according to statistics from the Georgia Governors Office of Highway Safety. Georgia recorded a total of 130 teen deaths from crashes in 2013. Comparable nationwide data was not available.
We put a young driver behind the wheel of a two-ton steel machine that when its controlled properly is a wonderful tool to get them where they need to go. But when its not controlled properly, it becomes a dangerous weapon, Blackwood said.
Distracted driving is a leading component behind teen crashes, he said.
You can almost label distraction as a major component of that -- and that includes texting and driving, adjusting the radio, talking to your friends in the car, doing something besides driving that car. It is still a major thing, Blackwood said.
It is against the law in Georgia for anyone under the age of 18 to even be using a cellphone, but it continues to happen. Teens feel like theyre invincible. It wont happen to me. Its not going to happen. Ill be OK. I can do this. I can text and drive.
Texting and driving has become such a problem that it needs to be taught in much the same manner alcohol and drug awareness is taught to fifth-graders, Blackwood said.
Texting and driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, and I dont care how you put that. Thats just the way it is. Its the way that teens communicate, he said.
Lead by example
In addition to helping parents instruct their teens during supervised driving, how the parents drive themselves impacts teen driving habits. Research done for Fords Driving Skills for Life program shows teens tend to emulate how their parents drive, according to news release from the automobile manufacturer.
By setting a good example behind the wheel, parents can increase the chances their children will adopt safe driving practices, Jim Vella, president of Ford Motor Co. Fund and Community Services, said in the release. While state laws and educational programs are critical, ultimately, parents are the most critical component to keep their teen drivers safe.
Fords Driving Skills for Life experts recommend parents engage in the driving process by talking about safe driving behaviors, practicing those behaviors and not tolerating unsafe driving actions, the release stated.
Other tips include buckling up, not driving distracted, not following too closely, always scanning ahead for hazards, limiting the number of passengers, and never drinking and driving.
Fords Driving Skills for Life experts also recommend parents seek educational opportunities.
Space is limited for the educational Ride with PRIDE class, with registration on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, Clark noted a waiting list is expected to be established, and additional courses may be offered based on the response to the April class.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9555.