Driving instructors

As death toll rises, program aims to teach teens defensive driving to save lives

RALEIGH NC (WNCN) — The number of teenagers killed on North Carolina’s roads increased in 2020 and remained high in 2021.

With prom season in full swing and summer fast approaching, experts like Highway Patrol Trooper and defensive driving instructor Michael Baker say it’s crucial to make sure teenagers are prepared for the dangers they face while driving.

“I’ve had to go to too many parents’ homes and drive home the message that their teenager made simple mistakes while driving and now has to plan that funeral,” Baker said.

According to NCDOT data, the number of fatal accidents involving teenagers have increased by more than 33% in 2020 and remained above 100 deaths in 2021.

“Some of the biggest contributing factors we see in teens are high speeds, distracted driving and not wearing a seat belt,” Baker said.

Among North Carolina teen fatalities last year, 52% of those killed were not wearing seat belts, alcohol was a factor in 16% of teen fatalities, and speeding accounted for more than 44% of fatal accidents involving teenagers.

These are facts that groups like the BRAKES program are trying to change.

This is a defensive driving course for teenagers.

The organization, though based in North Carolina, travels the country teaching new drivers and their parents how to avoid fatal crashes.

“Skid control, collision avoidance, slalom course, panic, distracted driving and wheel-down recovery,” Baker said.

Baker said they take teenage drivers on skid pads and even drive off-road in a section of the training to learn how to safely correct their car.

This is one of the most common fatal mistakes Baker says he sees.

“Every time they go off the road with two tires, they want to back the wheel to the left to quickly get back on the pavement,” Baker said. “Well, that puts you in a very serious situation where you could potentially lose control of your car.”

When someone loses traction in their car or begins to skid, instructors recommend drivers remember CPR – short for Correct, Pause and Recover.

The advice teaches people how to redirect the car to where they want to go, pause until they have a grip, then continue to a safe place while not pressing the button. ‘accelerator.

Scott Alridge brought his two sons to the BRAKES program. As a teenager, he was pulled from a crashed car on prom night.

“You can’t help but think if this is your son or your daughter,” Alridge said. “The car in front of us locked up its brakes, and the next thing you know, a van hit us at about 60 miles an hour.”

Alridge said safety starts with training beyond what a basic driving test requires.

“The driving instructions they get when they get the license is not enough and I think anything they can learn to get out of situations, become more defensive drivers, be safer, I think that’s good,” Alridge said.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation says the most dangerous time of year is between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

It’s called the 100 deadliest days for teens on the road.