Bluffton High, police unite to offer program to keep teen drivers safe

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Bluffton High, police unite to offer program to keep teen drivers safe

By DANIEL BROWNSTEIN dbrownstein@islandpacket.com 843-706-8125
Published Wednesday, August 27, 2008 in The Island Packet  |  600 Words  |  news/local

Early on May 18, Bluffton Police Chief David McAllister was awakened by his cell phone.
It was bad news.
Bluffton High School junior Josh George had been hit by a suspected drunken driver as the teen drove home from an after-prom party.
He would die three days later, becoming the...Early on May 18, Bluffton Police Chief David McAllister was awakened by his cell phone.
It was bad news.
Bluffton High School junior Josh George had been hit by a suspected drunken driver as the teen drove home from an after-prom party.
He would die three days later, becoming the school's fifth traffic fatality since Bluffton High opened its doors in 2004.
"When I received that call, I can tell you, there's no call like that," the chief said Tuesday in front of the high school. "It makes you sick."
McAllister immediately called school principal Bob Anderson, and the two discussed how the wreck was going to affect both the school and the community. Through the grief, the two devised a plan of action.
The Bluffton Police Department and the high school will begin offering Alive at 25, a national defensive-driving course, in October. The 4 & 1/2-hour class includes graphic videos and candid conversations with the police officer instructors.
The class, which is open to anyone in the community, will be a requirement for Bluffton High School students who want parking decals for the 2009-10 school year. The school will become just the 17th high school in the state to make Alive at 25 a requirement for school parking.
Also, young drivers ticketed by Bluffton police officers will have to take the course if they want to make a plea deal at municipal court, McAllister said.
Some insurance companies reduce premiums for drivers who complete the course.
Nationally, more than 3,800 drivers between 15 and 20 years old are killed each year in crashes, and another 2,200 teenage passengers die in wrecks, according to the National Safety Council. Annually, more than 326,000 young drivers are injured in wrecks.
"We need to show them they're not going to be fine," the chief said. "We need them to know it doesn't only happen to strangers."
Young drivers are less likely to wear seat belts and are more likely to become distracted by friends, cell phones and car stereos. Young drivers are involved in fatal wrecks at more than twice the rate of other motorists, even though they make up only 14 percent of the driving population.
"We are determined to no longer be a statistic," McAllister said.
Or to become a positive one.
Throughout the state, about 8,500 young drivers have taken the course. Of those, 98 percent said the class will help them become better drivers, said Brooke Russell, executive director of the South Carolina chapter of the National Safety Council.
In northern Beaufort County, the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office has been offering Alive at 25 for about a year and requires it for young people in diversion programs.
"We have a full house every time we do it," said Solicitor Duffie Stone.
Aaron Putich, an 18-year-old senior at Bluffton High, said he notices a lot of his peers driving recklessly. Sometimes even Putich, a bright student, doesn't wear a seat belt.
"We're high school students," he said. "We think we know it all."
Putich will embark on two years of mission work for his church when he graduates. His ultimate plan is to attend medical school.
"Driving safely will put me one step closer to that," he said.