Originally created 05/24/05

Class assists parents, children



SAVANNAH, Ga. - Last year, when Janet Scott tried to teach her 16-year-old daughter, Jasmine, to drive, the experience was aggravating.

"I would say, 'Check your mirror. Look right. Look left,'" Ms. Scott said. "And she would complain, 'OK, Mom. I've got it.'"

But in November, the mother and daughter enrolled in a free class called Georgia Teens Ride with P.R.I.D.E. (Parents Reducing Incidents of Driver Error.)

During just more than two hours of instruction, Savanah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department Sgt. Mike Nichols asked Jasmine and other teens to rate their parents' driving habits.

He showed sobering videos of car crashes.

And Sgt. Nichols explained the duties of both parents and teens under Georgia's 2002 law, the Teenage and Adult Driver Responsibility Act, which requires a parent or other adult to supervise a teen's driving as a key condition of getting a license.

Ms. Scott said the class helped her.

"It made me more confident in teaching Jasmine," she said.

And it helped to make Jasmine a conscientious driver, she and her mother said. Now when other cars pass her on the road, Jasmine said, she no longer feels she has to speed up to catch them.

The class had a larger purpose than a recitation of safety tips.

"The goal is to save lives," Sgt. Nichols said.

In Georgia and around the country, health and safety officials have worried for years about the high death toll of teenage drivers and their passengers. More than 200 Georgia teens die in car crashes every year, according to the Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

With their limited driving experience and "an immaturity" that leads to risky driving, teens have the highest crash risk of any age group, reported a national group, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. In a 2002 study of fatal crashes, 16-year-olds made frequent driving errors, drove too fast and often failed to use seat belts, institute officials said.

Two years ago, officials from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service and the Georgia Traffic Injury Prevention Institute started P.R.I.D.E. classes around the state for teens and their parents.

The plan: Show parents how to coach the novice drivers in the family - and help parents become good role models.

After all, Sgt. Nichols said, "If you drive 20 miles over the speed limit, you're teaching your kid to drive that way, too."

Or if mom never wears a seat belt, her child learns that too.

Savannah's first P.R.I.D.E. class began last year. Since then, more than 200 teens and their parents have taken the course, Sgt. Nichols said.

Every third Thursday of the month, anywhere from six to 18 parents and teens gather for one of the classes at a Waters Avenue church, Calvary in Savannah.

The class has a formal structure - surveys, videos, safety lectures, Sgt. Nichols said. But some of his teaching comes from the wisdom of a father who taught his own four children to drive.

One of Sgt. Nichols' suggestions to parents: During a driving lesson, "Don't bring up grades or chores, things that lead to confrontation. Keep the driving session on driving."

Sgt. Nichols and others hope the short class will supplement a detailed driver's education class that offers behind-the-wheel instruction.

Because Savannah's public schools don't offer driver's ed, they know their free course might be the only one young drivers will ever take.

It's too soon to measure P.R.I.D.E's success, said Mindy Linton, the program education specialist with the Georgia Traffic Injury Prevention Institute

But some safety experts think it's working. Said Jane Garrison, the director of the injury prevention group, SafeKids of Savannah Coalition,

"It's a good program. The classes try to make sure parents and teens are on the same page."

Teen driving deaths

In 2004, although teenagers comprised only 7 percent of Georgia's population, they were involved in 12 percent of all crash deaths.

Georgia

Yearteen drivers teen fatalities

2003 66,529113

200268,559100

200166,459117

200065,228101

199964,517111

- Morris News Service