As a distracted driver veers into the wrong lane, an oncoming vehicle clips his sedan and sends it careening off the road. The little boy playing soccer behind his home is killed instantly when the car crashes through the wooden fence separating the secluded back yard from the street.
Sandy Springs Police Department officers Shelly Weed and Tim Sheffield consider the shocked expressions of the Riverdale, Holy Innocents’ and North Springs students in front of them as they watch the video. They have been talking about the dangers posed by distractions on the road.
“What are some examples of distractions?” Weed asks.
“Food,” someone says.
“Radio,” another offers.
This answer gets a nod of approval from Weed.
The dozen or so teenagers, gathered in a small conference room on the fourth floor of the Sandy Springs Communication Center are in the midst of a PowerPoint presentation on the many hazards new drivers encounter as they take to the road.
The Sandy Springs Police Department has been participating in the Georgia Teens Ride with P.R.I.D.E. course since 2009. The two-hour class for teen drivers and their parents stresses the importance of safe driving behaviors and provides information about requirements and restrictions on teen drivers as they progress from the CP learner’s permit to a class D restricted license and finally to a full class C license some time after their 18th birthday.
The P.R.I.D.E class is a product of the Georgia Traffic Injury Prevention Institute [GTIPI], an outreach unit of the University of Georgia. It aims to help parents and teens maximize the effectiveness of the required 40 hours of supervised driving time teens must complete before obtaining a class D license.
In the next room over from the teens, their parents are learning how best to help them become safe drivers. Following a short video demonstrating how easily communication between parents and teens can disintegrate during supervised driving, Sgt. Raymond Nable explains that the manner with which parents communicate with their kids about safe driving is just as important as what they are trying to communicate.
He encourages parents to have their new drivers narrate their actions during practice sessions, both to reinforce correct driving procedure for the teen learning and to avoid a string of reminders from parents that can come off as nagging. Nable says it is also important for parents to teach by example.
“You tell them not to text and drive,” he tells the room full of parents. “Have they ever seen you text and drive?”
As the class continues, students reunite with their parents to compare their knowledge of teen driving laws in Georgia and to hear some stark reminders about the dangers that face new drivers. According to the GTIPI, 20 percent of teen drivers in the U.S. are involved in a crash during their first year driving. When three or more teens are in the car, the risk of accident increases by a factor of 187.
The P.R.I.D.E course is offered for free on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Parents and teens can register for the class by email through Bunny Mitchell at email@example.com.
In the future, Nable says he would like to see the Sandy Springs department expand the current classes to include hands-on driver training as well as adding safety courses for adult drivers.
“That’ll be a while,” he said, “because it’s labor intensive to put together and we’ve got to put together the manpower.”
The goal of the classes is to instill young drivers with habits that will keep them safe on the road, both by reducing their chances of accident and by increasing their chances of survival, if they do get in a wreck.
“Within the next 10 years, over three-quarters of these kids will be in an accident,” says Sheffield, “so you’ve got to prepare them to be safe when that accident occurs.”
Most importantly, that means observing the speed limit and buckling seat belts. Videos shown throughout the class demonstrate how people who ignore these practices can be dangerous to themselves and others. In one video, an unrestrained back seat passenger becomes a lethal projectile during a wreck, killing his girlfriend.
“The video that showed the kid in the back seat flying around the car [made an impression],” says 15-year-old Cory Knapp, who currently has a learner’s permit. “I’d never thought of that.”