Teen motorists learn the hazards of driving

Some local high school students are learning from law enforcement officers how to become safe drivers.

They are receiving the training in the Youth Educational Driver's Program conducted the Henry County Sheriff's Office. It is designed for potential teenage drivers to complete a prescribed state program before they are permitted a Georgia driver's license.

The program is offered as a result of Joshua's Law, which was passed the Georgia Legislature in 2005. Joshua's Law declares that in order to get a Class D driver's license at age 16, the applicant must have completed a driver-education course approved the Department of Driver Services. The applicant also must have completed a cumulative total of at least 40 hours of other supervised driving experience, including at least six hours at night.

"You know, as parents, we are always concerned about our kids when it comes to driving," said Henry County Sheriff Keith McBrayer. "We want to prepare them to be as careful as possible and to drive defensively. We see too many of our young drivers injured, or killed, in automobile accidents."

Deputy Mike Kehoe, lead instructor for the youth-driving program, has taught for two years. He said he has worked a number of auto accidents with fatalities of teen drivers.

"I volunteered to do this. I strongly care for the teens while they are driving," he said. "Once the kids complete this course, I'd like to see them be responsible, respectful defensive drivers," Kehoe added.

"Our drivers safety class helps to prepare the students for what they will face in real-life situations, once they start driving," added Sheriff McBrayer.

The teachings appear to be making an impact on the youngsters.

"You realize a car is nothing to play around with," said Locust Grove high school student Austin Kuhns, following a session. "I have learned you need to look around, pay attention, and expect the unexpected."

Kuhns, 16, took part in the department's youth-driving program July 12, through July 15. He said the program has taught him to become a proactive driver.

Real-life situations seemed to impress students as they reflected on some of their classmates who were killed while driving. Most of them, they said, caused the auto accident fatalities.

"I learned traffic rules and information about what to do if you break down," said Emily Owen, 15, of Ola High School. "I already knew what to do if I started hydroplaning in the rain."

Haley Shea Barfield, 16, of Locust Grove High, said the course has made her more confident about driving. "I feel a lot better about knowing what I am doing," said Barfield. "The fact is, people think that car crashes will never happen to them, you just have to be careful about every little thing, like blind spots."

The teens were among nine students enrolled in the safe-driving course earlier this month.

"If you are involved in an accident one of the things you need to do is notify the police," deputy Danny Purvis, told drivers during one session.

"Once you leave home, you never know if you are going to make it back, regardless if you are in law enforcement, or not," said Purvis. "It's just [due to] the good Lord, will, and grace, that you return home."