Thursday, April 8, 2004

Teens learn top road killers

The big three: speed, drink, no seat belts

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - "Speeders: Raise your hands," a teen leader of a safe-driving program asked.

About three dozen hands went up - and many attendees gasped, especially after one young driver admitted going 90 mph in a 35-mph zone.

Then Chris Williams, a uniformed highway patrol trooper, hit the issue head-on. "Speed is the No. 1 factor why you guys are dying," he said.

The other two top reasons: unbuckled seat belts and alcohol use.

Couple that with teens' inexperience behind the wheel, Williams said, and "You basically are a fatal car crash waiting to happen."

Williams' talk launched Wednesday's session of 4-H CARTeens, a court-ordered program where 130 people - teens and their parents - came to hear about the consequences of unsafe driving.

The attendance - a record high - comes as a result of Butler County's crackdown on teen driving offenses after 10 people died in seven weeks in teen-involved crashes.

Usually held every two weeks, the two-hour CARTeens (Caring And Responsible Teens) program will start meeting weekly in May to accommodate the larger crowds, said coordinator James Jordan. The more frequent sessions will continue, he said, "until they (teens) get the idea that law enforcement means business."

Police agencies in Butler County began the crackdown March 30, saying young drivers were at fault in all but one of the crashes - and excessive speed was often a factor.

The CARTeens program includes poignant presentations by parents whose children were killed behind the wheel, and sometimes features talks by teens who caused fatal or serious crashes. But the program also uses humor to get across some important points.

Sent to CARTeens for driving 13 mph over the speed limit, Jeff Ketterer Jr., 16, of Hamilton, volunteered to wear a pair of "drunk goggles," which have special lenses to simulate the visual impairment that comes from drinking.

He tried walking heel-to-toe along a yellow and black-striped line - but went way off course, as other teens laughed. "That's a good way to show you not to drink and drive," he said later.

His father, Jeff Sr., said, "I think the way they have this program set up is good. I think it's set up so the kids are learning more things than they even realize right now."


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