Lovejoy students learn safe driving

By Trina Trice

Most people wouldn't like to see teenagers driving cars that swerve and screech to a halt, but they were encouraged to do just that at the Atlanta Motor Speedway Tuesday.

The teens, all Lovejoy and Mt. Zion high school students, were test-driving a teen driving safety program spearheaded by Georgia-Pacific and Petty Enterprises, the company owned by famous racecar driver Richard Petty.

For Andy Lassiter, high school senior, the driving was an adrenaline rush, but the purpose of the day's exercises were to "expose these teens to compromising situations," said Mike Hunter, strategic planning coordinator for Petty Enterprises.

"The purpose was to do that here in a safe and controlled environment with the ultimate goal of if they come across these situations on the street, they'll know how to react," he said.

Students received instruction from the "best drivers" from the Petty Experience, an AMS event that allows an average person the experience of driving a racecar.

"We took a handful of students to provide them professional instruction," said Jack Priblo, senior manager of Sports Marketing. "They had an afternoon of defensive driving skills, learning different techniques, like emergency stopping."

While driving several sedans on loan from a Lawrenceville dealership, students learned how to skid, a highlight for Lassiter.

"You learn how to put on the brakes and make sure you turn the wheel back the way it came," he said.

Nick Ledford, senior in high school, learned how to switch lanes and brake without letting a car slow down.

"We practiced when you get in a panic situation so you can keep control of the car," he said.

Ledford has been driving for two years and admits that he's done some careless driving, making Tuesday's lessons all the more beneficial.

"Teenagers account for about 17 percent of traffic-related fatalities in the state of Georgia," said Pete Correll, chairman and chief executive officer of Georgia-Pacific. "We're excited to bring the Teen Safety 500 program back to Atlanta this year to again help raise awareness of the importance of safe driving to teenagers."

Students at the two schools have agreed to sign the Teen Safety 500 pledge that binds them to being violation-free with no car accidents during a three-week period.

The program is particularly important to Lovejoy High School students after several of their classmates died in a car accident in March. As a result, several students have vowed to be more diligent about driving safely, such as wearing seatbelts.

Mike Duncan, principal of Lovejoy High School, wants to ensure his students learn to be safe drivers.

"This program allows our students to become more responsible drivers," he said. "My goal is to not lose another student in a senseless automobile accident."

The program, which began in 2001, will begin "real" sessions in Atlanta next month, moving to Phoenix and Miami in November.