- Family Features
- Business Directory
- Gallery Of Homes
- Subscribe Now!
- Place A Classified Ad
- New! Digital e-Edition
Parents, activists push return of drivers ed
Mar 25, 2005 12:00 am
An string of Wilson County teenage deaths due to car accidents has spawned a committee to explore options on how to reinstitute driver's education in schools, while grieving parents produce a gripping video they hope will be part of the proposed course.
Driver's ed was stripped from the county curriculum three years ago because it was "too expensive" and there was a "lack of interest," Wilson County Director of School Dr. Jim Duncan said. However, there appears to be renewed interest in the training with school records indicating signups for this week's intersession offering of the course by privately owned Winchester Driving School tripled from last year.
As of Monday, nearly 160 students dropped $350 for the course some want to become a graduation requirement.
"An inordinate amount of teenagers have lost their lives because of accidents," Victory Baptist Church pastor and MJHS coach Chuck Groover said. "… School prepares students for their academic and social lives. Driver's ed should be another subject. Students need to know the laws and the safety issues."
Grover is a driving force in the grass roots effort to push for funding mechanisms to implement the program for high school students.
Kyle Kawczyorksi, 15, spent the majority of his first day of spring break taking notes in the intersession offering at Mt. Juliet High.
"My parents made me take this course," he said. "Too many kids don't know how to drive and this will make me safer behind the wheel."
According to figures supplied by the Institute for Highway Safety, the rate of 16-year-olds involved in fatal crashes is nearly five times that of drivers ages 20 and older. Statistics prove young drivers make deadly mistakes because of immaturity and inexperience. About 77 percent of 16-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes made a driving error, a highway safety report states.
And Wilson County is not immune to these staggering statistics.
Over the past 12 months, five local students lost their lives in car wrecks. These deaths came on the heels of several other deadly teen crashes here. Wilson Central High School Principal Larry Kernagis has felt the blow far too many times. In the last year, three of his students were killed in car crashes, another four students barely escaped with their lives in a devastating crash that left one girl still in therapy.
"The community recognizes this problem," Kernagis said. "Our schools offer a wide variety of classes. Why not a class to save a person's life? These kids have got to get the skills. They are not prepared to deal with what they will encounter on the road."
Mt. Juliet resident Joe Gray and his wife, Dorris, are personally funding a video chronicling the lives and deaths of two beloved Wilson Central High School students killed in wrecks last summer. The Grays advocate a mandated driver's education course in high schools and they want students to watch their video in hopes the gripping footage will make the students safer behind the wheel.
Gray knows too well what the parents of students Kaci Tanner and Jared Willis – the subjects of the video – have endured following the devastating turn of events that robbed them of their children.
"Nothing is more devastating than losing a child," Gray said. "I lost my son in a car accident four years ago due to a young driver not trained properly. That's why I'm working on a panel to research potential ways to get a driver's ed program back in our schools."
Tommy Gray just turned 16 years old when he lost his life on a curvy road much like Central Pike. The accident occurred while Tommy was going on an out-of-school function with his swim team.
"The driver was a senior and he decided to pass the car in front of him," Gray said quietly. "Ultimately Tommy and his best friend were killed in that moment."
When Gray approached JoAnn Tanner to take part in the video, the grieving mother was more than willing. Her 16-year-old daughter, Kaci, was killed when her boyfriend lost control of his vehicle.
"I think the video is a wonderful idea," she said. "I found out a lot of things I didn't know since Kaci died. The brain of a girl Kaci's age is not fully developed. Reaction time and responsiveness is slower and this plays a large part in teen drivers' inexperience. Kaci thought she knew it all. Driver's ed needs to emphasize speeding and recklessness costs lives."
Gray said the video will open with a realistic drama told from the perspective of a teen killed in an accident. It is complete with hospital death scenes and focuses on the preciousness of life. Tanner and Willis talk about their children and a message of "what could have been" is interspersed.
"Our push to find funding for driver's ed has the ultimate goal to solicit support of teaching kids from the classroom how to drive," Gray said. "If we can reduce the cost of this we have a greater chance of getting it reinstituted."
Duncan said the program would cost the system upwards of $250,000. Watertown offers driver's ed only because it has few other electives and a small number of students involved. Duncan said he is in favor of the system providing in-class instruction as part of the health and wellness program, at "some expense." However, he would ask private funds pay for the driving part of the course.
"We are gathering proposals from various agencies to see what they can come up and offer us," he said. "It's not the system's responsibility to provide driving experience. Parents need to provide this for their children."
To help with this, Mt. Juliet Police Chief Kenneth Martin is currently writing a Governor's Highway Safety Office Grant in an effort to garner funds. It is this grant that allows Rutherford County schools to provide this course.
"We need to educate them and older folks as well," Martin said.
Zone 4 school board member Ron Britt said he would never support driver's ed as part of the curriculum.
"We need to teach to read and write," Britt said. "Learning to drive is not an experience that we teach. There are a high number of teenage driving deaths but it is a community and society problem."
Britt said the burden of funding this course should not take away from the normal curriculum. He suggested asking the County Commission for funds needed to pay for on-the-road training.
"It's a community thing," he said. "Perhaps our two cities could also kick in some money for it."
Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam at a recent City Commission meeting suggested the City of Mt. Juliet kick in $5,000 to the effort, subject to approval, Britt noted.
Shooting for the video begins this week. If the class is not implemented, the video will be marketed to private companies teaching driver's ed.