Students pledge to drive safely

SUWANEE -- A packed auditorium of students listened Monday as a policeman spoke with determination in his voice. He urged them to understand that becoming distracted is the most dangerous thing one can do behind the wheel.

Be it a cell phone call, changing radio stations or simply not watching the road, distractions are one of the biggest problems that young drivers face, officials said.

North Gwinnett High School is one of 15 schools statewide taking part in the Operation Drive Smart Senior Challenge, a program that encourages students to "just drive."

Monday was the official kickoff for the safety initiative. Police from several nearby jurisdictions visited the school and spoke to the entire senior class.

Suwanee Police Cap. Cass Mooney was one of those who spoke. "It's about making good decisions," Mooney said. "Teens take their eyes off the road four times more often than adults. Every little thing can be a distraction."

Adding to the problem, Mooney explained, "young people are not as experienced at driving as adults either, and that can put them at even more of a disadvantage."

Cindy Skibitsky, president of the parent teacher student association at North Gwinnett, said "if today's efforts save just one life, it's all worth it. This has been a top priority for us, and I want the impact of what they're hearing to really stay with them."

To help drive the message home, students each received a "challenge chip" in exchange for signing a piece of paper stating that they will avoid distractions while driving.

"It's something to put in their pocket," said Lt. Bill Stevens with the Duluth Police Department. "It's a gentle reminder to pay attention to their driving."

Students Ashley Waller, 17, and Taylor Smith, 18, said it will help.

"I think this is a good opportunity to try and be a better driver," Waller said.

Smith said she also wants to be a better driver to avoid accidents. "You hear about these wrecks that peers have, and it could easily be you," Smith said.

Student Advisor Holly Smith said she appreciates what the police department is doing. "It's a community effort that really highlights the importance of driving safely," Smith said.

Funded by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, the program is a partnership between Suwanee Police and Duluth Police, which encourages all 637 seniors at North Gwinnett High School to use caution behind the wheel.