06/06/10 — Patrol: Speeders will get tickets

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Patrol: Speeders will get tickets

By Staff Reports
Published in News on June 6, 2010 1:50 AM

The state Highway Patrol will be out in force in Wayne and surrounding counties this week -- with a warning to the driving public.

As thousands of students finish up classes and many of them graduate and make plans to celebrate, Gov. Beverly Perdue has ordered the patrol to step up traffic controls, especially near school zones, in an effort to reduce the number of traffic fatalities involving teenagers.

Operation Drive to Live will involve hundreds of Highway Patrol officers spending thousands of hours trying to prevent the celebration of school parties from becoming funerals.

North Carolina ranks fifth in the nation in the number of teenage highway deaths, said Trooper Bennie Grady, who, along with Trooper Jimmy Graham, has been charged with leading the safe-driving campaign in Wayne.

Last year, 139 teenagers in North Carolina died in highway crashes. That, Gov. Perdue said, is too many, and she has issued a statewide warning to anyone behind the wheel to slow down, put on their seat belt, put down the cell phone and pay attention to the road.

Troopers will not be giving out warnings, Grady said. They will be handing out tickets.

It is a zero tolerance policy, he said.

"If you haven't been paying attention when you are going through a school zone, there will be nothing given," Grady said. "You will get a ticket."

The idea is to get drivers to become more aware of their surroundings and more conscious of what it takes to be a safe driver.

"If it takes the fear of getting charged to save a life, then that is worth it," he added.

Graham said the warning, while aimed at teenagers, goes for drivers of all ages. Troopers from other parts of the state will be called in to work the roadways in and around Wayne, he said. The troopers have been talking to classes of students at various schools, reminding them of the dangers of driving while drinking, or doing anything else that might distract them.

"We will be in the schools, we will be walking the hallways, talking to students," he said. "We are trying to get the word out that you need to be careful."

He noted that his own daughter will be graduating in a few days.

"(Students) need to hear this," he said.

Graham noted the increased amount of traffic on rural roads and pointed to Johnston County and its recent streak of teenage highway deaths as the example Wayne wants to avoid.

"Without the help of the public, there's no way we can stop it," he said.

In a memo from the patrol's Lt. Col W.R. Scott to all local patrol troop commanders, the colonel instructs patrolmen to "visit each high school in their district and share traffic safety information with students."

Grady and Graham said they have been doing just that and plan to do even more.

"Our main focus is to keep teenagers from dying on the highways," Grady said, noting that a teenager dies in a vehicle accident somewhere in the United States every 23 minutes.