Sobering experience
Drive Smart program teaches local teens about driving dangers

SUWANEE - North Gwinnett High School student Cameron Burgess buckles up when he's in a vehicle.

"I've always been real adamant about seat belts," said the 18-year-old, who has been driving for just more than a year.

As he watched the Duluth Police Department's rollover simulator, which shows what can happen to someone who isn't wearing a seat belt when a vehicle overturns, Burgess said he was concerned to hear some of his peers admit they don't like using seat belts.

"It scares me for kids I don't even know," Burgess said Thursday during the Operation Drive Smart Expo at his school.

The Expo, presented by the Duluth Police Department's Community Oriented Police Services program and funded by a $38,000 grant from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, is designed to educate teenagers about driving safety and laws, Master Patrol Officer Liz Strickland said.

"We provide the students the information, and after they leave us, it's up to them to make the right decision," Strickland said.

The grant will allow the Duluth Police Department to take the program this year to 14 high schools throughout the state, including Brookwood and Buford, Strickland said.

The Expo contains stations, such as the rollover simulator. Agencies including the Gwinnett County Police Department, Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services, Georgia State Patrol and Gwinnett Medical Center set up posts at North Gwinnett.

North Gwinnett's student council helped direct teens from station to station. Ninth- through 12th-grade students visited the Expo during their social studies classes, said Holly Smith, a teacher and student council sponsor.

"I really think students are truly learning how to drive," Smith said. "Seeing the problems that could arise ... on the road is important."

One popular feature of the Expo was goggles that simulate how intoxication impairs vision. Some students had the opportunity to wear the goggles and attempt to walk in a straight line or drive a golf cart.

While some students initially thought the experience was funny, most stopped laughing after a few minutes, Burgess said. The knowledge of how much alcohol can impair vision seemed sobering.

Burgess said the Expo caused him to rethink something he does: sending text messages while stopped at a red light. He said he was shocked to hear how frequently Emory Flight is called to crashes where text messaging was a contributing factor.

"I feel like I'm not going to have my phone visible (in the car) anymore," he said.