Safe Driving Camp aims to keep teens safe on the road

FORSYTH -- Nina Nguyen decided to attend the fifth annual Safe Driving Camp because it gave her a chance to get behind the wheel of a car.

Nguyen is a Taylor County resident who, like most 15-year-olds, jumps at any opportunity to drive.

But what started out as an excuse to drive turned into a valuable learning experience for Nguyen.

She said she was impacted by the videos shown at the camp of teenagers in the emergency room after being injured in car accidents. “You really don’t get to see what goes on behind those doors, so you don’t really think about it,” she said.

And that’s exactly what the event aims to get teenagers doing -- thinking.

The camp was sponsored by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, the Forsyth Police Department and the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, among other organizations.

Teens who attended got hands-on experience behind the wheel, saw safety demonstrations, learned about vehicle maintenance and spent some time in a classroom learning about the effects of alcohol and drugs on driving.

Michael Clay of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said adults could benefit from the event as well, but it is targeted towards teenagers because they are “more receptive.”

“We try to get them early while they’re just starting to drive,” he said.

They drove on a skid pad, something Clay said is always a favorite with the teenagers. The skid pad simulates conditions in which a car might skid, like rain or ice, and teenagers are shown how to maintain control of their car.

They also participated in “Fatal Vision,” a hands-on exercise in which goggles simulate the feeling of driving drunk.

The students first drove through a course of safety cones in a golf cart without the goggles, and then they drive the course a second time while wearing the goggles.

At one station, participants viewed a demonstration of a truck being flipped over with dummies inside.

The truck is flipped when the dummies are not wearing seat belts and again when they are wearing them so students can see the difference a seat belt can make in a collision.

Randall Oliver, 15, said watching the dummies fly out of the overturned truck was a shock.

“(They) came out of the cars a lot easier than I thought they would,” he said.

This exercise is of particular importance to Captain William L. Hires, coordinator for the Coastal Area Traffic Enforcement Network.

Hires’ son died while riding with a drunk driver, and Hires volunteers at the camp and shares his story in hopes of preventing similar tragedies.

“My payment is hoping that a child walks away with a lesson and a parent doesn’t have to stand in front of an open casket like I did,” he said.