Deputies promote ?SAFER Driver'

By Ed Brock

Pausing to tell his grandson's friend to come back later, Willie Slaton looks at the stop sign near his Iron Gate Boulevard house and shakes his head.

"The bad part about it is I see police run the stop sign all the time," Slaton said.

Slaton's neighborhood is one of several targeted by the Clayton County Sheriff's Office's "SAFER Driver" program. SAFER stands for Sheriff's Automobile Fatality Education and Reduction, Deputy Tony Kessler said.

The program includes road checks at the county's high schools as well as special patrols in neighborhoods like Slaton's.

"It's really not so much to generate statistics but to educate people," Kessler said.

Kessler said the program was inspired by the Oct. 9, 2002 death of Keylon Dillard. Dillard, 2, walked out into early-morning traffic on Ga. Highway 138 just west of Ga. Highway 85 and was hit by several cars.

The SAFER Driver program began in January.

In July the program will expand to include enforcement of the midnight to 5 a.m. curfew for teens.

Kessler said the road checks at the schools are aimed at protecting young drivers as well as young pedestrians.

"The easiest way to make sure they're wearing their seatbelts is to get them where they go and that's school," Kessler said.

The deputies also check the student's license and if a violation is found their parents are notified. During this past school year officers managed to work one school a month, but in the coming school year they hope to be able to do two to three schools a month.

In the case of the neighborhood checks, Kessler said that when school is in session they focus on areas with bus stops.

"You would have 10 or 15 kids get off a school bus and walk down the street and then you'd have a car blow through a stop sign like those kids weren't there," Kessler.

During the vacation season they go to streets like Iron Gate Boulevard where the residents call with complaints.

Most often the people who run stop signs in their neighborhoods do so because being close to home on familiar roads makes them complacent, Kessler said. And sometimes the drivers are distracted.

"I pulled over a nun who was reading a map trying to find Southern Regional Medical Center," Kessler said.

But 54-year-old Slaton said most of the people who run the sign near his house at the intersection of Iron Gate and Hatch Cover Circle are not from the neighborhood.

"They come up over that hill there and they don't see it. They don't see it," Slaton said.

Slaton's two children are grown, but he still worries about the other children who walk or ride their bicycles through this neighborhood where he has lived since 1972.

For lesser violations the drivers are often let go with a warning and some educational material, Kessler said.

Kendrick Road, between Flint River Road and Highway 138 has been another target for the SAFER Driver. However, Mark Campbell, who has lived on Kendrick near the intersection with Bowen Court for nearly 12 years, said the stop sign there is frequently obeyed.

"I'd say only one out of 100 run it," Campbell said.