By Ed Brock
Don't let the Sponge Bob steering wheel cover fool you. Allison Mimms takes her driving seriously.
"I'm a very cautious driver," Mimms said.
That's why the 18-year-old Morrow High School senior will be teaming up with classmate Dajuan Holmes, also 18, for Saturday's Safe Teen Georgia Driving Competition in Morrow for a chance to win $1,000 for their school.
Put on by the Safe America Foundation and the Morrow Police Department, the competition is part of the Clayton County Teen Driving Clinic that will be held at Morrow City Hall from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Mimms and Holmes and students from seven other schools will take the wheel of a car provided by the Morrow Police Department and complete a course, Morrow police Maj. Charlie Sewell said. They will have to demonstrate their ability to maintain their lane, obey a stop sign, back up and more.
The team with the best score wins the $1,000, provided by the Wal-Mart in Morrow. The girl and boy with the best individual scores (not necessarily from the same school) will win $150, also from Wal-Mart, that they will get to keep.
The principals and staff of the participating schools picked the teens who will participate in the competition.
And the teen drivers in the competition as well as any other teen who comes to the free event will be able to participate in other activities. There will be computerized driving simulators, instruction on timing of braking reflexes and on airbag deployment and a chance to "drive drunk."
With a Morrow police officer at their side, the teens will put on the "Fatal Vision" goggles that simulate the visual effect of overdrinking and get behind the wheel of a golf cart, Sewell said.
While this is the first time for Safe America to hold a competition and clinic on Atlanta's south side, the Marietta based organization has been holding similar events on the north side for about five years, Safe America President Len Pagano said.
"There's no better way to convert a teenager to something than by sitting down and talking to them," Pagano said. "These events put safety right in front in the faces of the teens."
Pagano said the organization plans to hold six to eight events this year and he called Saturday's event a "first step in a statewide tour."
Sewell said his department learned about the events last year.
"We saw an advertisement in the paper up at Lockheed and became interested," Sewell said. "We're really excited about this."
Mimms and Holmes said there are many bad driving habits among teens.
"They get distracted a lot. The main thing is they don't pay attention," Holmes said.
Not wearing seatbelts and driving under the influence are also problems, the teens said. Holmes had the utmost confidence in himself and in his partner that they will win the competition and bring home the $1,000 prize.
"I don't think anything will be really challenging," Holmes said.
Pagano said that his organization is currently working with Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray and Clayton County Police Chief Darrell Partain on holding a monthly Safe Teen Georgia class in Clayton County.
"Then we would have the opportunity to bring this to the kids so they wouldn't have to drive to the north side of Atlanta," Pagano said. "(Saturday's event) is a preview of what we want to bring to Clayton County."
The details of that arrangement are still being worked out, Pagano said.
Other sponsors of Saturday's clinic are Verizon Wireless, Abra Auto Body and Glass, Enterprise rental, State Farm Insurance and Chick-fil-A. The first 300 people to attend the event will get free lunches from Chick-fil-A and Verizon will be distributing a limited number of free hands-free headsets.
There is no charge for participating in the clinic.