Originally created 09/23/04

Schools want safe drivers



The recent death of a Greenbrier High School student in a car wreck is prompting school officials to enact new methods of keeping student motorists safe.

Lea Turner, a senior at Greenbrier, died Aug. 10 while on her way to school. Authorities say her fianc, Jason Banning, veered into oncoming traffic after he lost control of his Acura Integra.

The accident spurred administrators to come up with the safety-themed, weeklong event, which is tentatively set for next month on the Geenbrier campus.

"After the incident, we decided that this is something we're going to channel some energy toward," Greenbrier Assistant Principal Marjorie Hamilton said. "We don't want any more incidents like this."

Officials plan to erect street signs reminding students to use a seat belt and observe speed limits. They also will hold an assembly to ask students to pledge to drive safely, let students experience a driving simulator to help them maneuver through hazardous circumstances and offer informational packets and pamphlets.

"Our hope is to so completely saturate our students with positive safe driving messages that safe driving becomes the standard for our kids and our community," Greenbrier Principal Sandra Carraway wrote in a school newsletter sent to parents.

Columbia County schools once offered driver's education as an elective course but abandoned the curriculum in the late 1980s, said Michael Canady, the director of the school system's career education technology and alternative programs.

The liability of the course became too great, many insurance companies refused to underwrite the classes and several parents filed lawsuits against school systems and teachers after accidents, said Nettie Engels, the county's director of high school student learning.

Richmond County also abandoned driver's education classes in its high schools more than 20 years ago.

The only area high schools that offer driver's education are Strom Thurmond High School in Edgefield County, Burke County High School and the seven high schools in Aiken County.

"We just see it as a service to our students, and it is a safety objective," said Dr. Frank Roberson, the associate superintendent of instruction for Aiken County schools.

Rick Umpleby, who has taught Burke County's driver education course for four of its eight years, said a local car dealer donates the vehicle for the course and the district pays the $60,000 for his salary, textbooks and insurance.

Overall, he said, the course has been a major help to the 80-100 students who take it each year. These students don't have to pay hundreds of dollars to go to a driver's school and can learn safe driving in a convenient location.

"I wholeheartedly support it," Mr. Umpleby said. "I've taught English for 25 years, and this is every bit as important as that. It's certainly not as academic, but it's a way of reaching them that can impact their futures."

Staff writer Karen Ethridge contributed to this story.

Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113.