Troopers want to educate teen drivers

CLAYTON Authorities will be out in full force as part of Operation Drive to Live 2009.

The campaign kicked off Monday morning at Clayton High School in Johnston County.

The program is geared toward cutting back on the number of teen deaths by putting patrols in the classroom and on the streets surrounding schools.

According to state highway officials, Johnston County has the record for the most fatalities involving teenagers.

"North Carolina is fifth in the nation in school-age fatalities," said Col. Walter Wilson, North Carolina Highway Patrol.

Wilson addressed the crowd in Johnston County -- a place where high schools have been hit the hardest.

"You may have noticed we have 22 vacant chairs before us today," said Secretary Ruben Young, Public Safety & Crime Control. "These empty chairs represent the 22 teens killed in Johnston County in the past few years."

Last November Johnston County began offering driving courses to teens. It's called "Alive and 25." A book focusing on safe, defensive driving is used to teach the course.

"We were hit several years ago," Clayton High School Principal Clint Eaves said. "Three kids lost in one year, so this really hits home for us."

Traffic collisions are the leading cause of teenage deaths in North Carolina and nationwide. In the last four years, 554 teenagers have been killed in crashes investigated by the state Highway Patrol.

Authorities say some collisions involving teenage drivers occur during their commute to and from high school. In 2004, North Carolina ranked fifth in the nation in total teenage deaths.

The campaign began 6 a.m. Monday and will go through 5 p.m. Friday.

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