Johnston County paid tribute to an outstanding group of young citizens Monday.
The JoCo Teen Drivers held their 2017 Kickoff Luncheon at the Johnston County Ag Center near Smithfield.
The focus of the luncheon was to honor and congratulate teens in the program for their efforts throughout the year to raise awareness and garner support for the group’s message — Drive To Stay Alive.
“We meet twice a month and we come up with ideas to promote safe driving in our school and our community,” said South Johnston High School teacher and faculty sponsor for the program, Derek Micke. “We try to have lasting messages that deal with driving.”
Projects the group have taken on include joining with area fire departments to stage an accident scene and urging teens to make prom night safe by using good driving practices.
Mr. Micke, who teaches math and driver’s education, says the peer-led program has seen positive results.
“We continue to promote it and I’m hearing more and more about students talking about and knowing how to handle peer situations and technology in the car and what to do if they are at a party if drugs and alcohol happen to show up,” he said. “The awareness and the decision making is definitely increasing among the student population.”
Four Oaks student Alexis Parks is a member of the South Johnston leadership team that took part in Monday’s luncheon. She says students in the program take part in a variety of activities to get their message out.
“We do multiple activities during school,” she said. “For Valentine’s Day, we made a banner and had people sign it. For March, we’re doing flowers on cars for safe driving.”
Along with enjoying lunch, the students were also offered advice on everything from what to carry in their cars for roadside assistance, to listening to the story of a Charlotte teen who was severely injured in an automobile crash.
Peggy Bennett from Talk It Out NC used her son, Josh’s, drunk driving accident to make a point — nothing good can come from someone driving after being so intoxicated they were nearly three times the legal limit.
“Don’t drink and drive, don’t ever do it,” Josh told the audience. “I don’t want to see one life saved, I want to see all lives saved.”
It was a message not wasted on Alexis.
She has firsthand knowledge about the dangers of distracted driving. She was involved in an accident and now she spreads the message.
“I was going around a sharp curve,” she said. “I was only going 27, but I blacked out. So, I learned the hard way.”
She uses her own example to express the message to other students.
“It’s kind of touched them in a way,” she said. “And it taught me to always be safe, wear your seat belt, don’t touch your cell phone, don’t drink and drive and go the speed limit.”
Alexis, who won a drawing for one of four $100 college scholarships during the luncheon, says there’s still work to be done and tries to get the message out. She says others she’s met haven’t accepted the facts, so she continues to emphasize the severity of the situation.
Think Texting Is Cool
“They think texting and driving’s cool,” she said. “I go up to some of them and tell them that text can wait. I think your life is more important than text messages.”
Mr. Micke said he’s seen first- hand how the program has impacted local teens. He says when he’s out on the road the results are showing.
“Honestly, when I’m out on the road and I see them in the community and see them making better decisions, wearing their seatbelt and slowing down before curves,” he said about what he’s noticed. “Just talking to them in the high school their message is real clear, they’re not drinking and driving, they’re putting their phones down, they’re showing it physically and through their words.”
The number of students involved in the program at South Johnston High School so far has reached 15 to 20, with a core leadership group that gets the message started.
“We’re working on expanding and growing that number,” Mr. Micke said. “Anyone’s welcome to join the club. We definitely are open to anyone coming in and getting involved, so it’s an open door.”
The program began in response to a spike in traffic accidents and fatalities among Johnston County teens by the county board of commissioners.
After a two-year effort to establish an effective approach and with the help of a statewide steering committee to secure additional resources, commissioners were presented with six recommendations — among them to establish a peer-led program in each high school in the county.
Using a model from a similar program in Texas, a grant from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program in 2010 the Teens in the Driver’s Seat Program was born.
Later, the group was renamed the JoCo Teen Drivers and was given funding from Johnston County.