06/27/10 — Troopers grad week patrols a success

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Troopers grad week patrols a success

By Aaron Moore
Published in News on June 27, 2010 1:50 AM

A campaign to reduce traffic accidents involving teenage drivers during graduation week proved a success, say troopers with the state Highway Patrol.

On orders from Gov. Beverly Perdue, the patrol vowed to crack down on speeding, drunken driving and other highway violations during the high school graduation period when many teenagers are on the road.

In Wayne County, they made good on that promise, said Troopers Bennie Grady and Jimmy Graham, who spearheaded the local campaign.

Operation Drive to Live took place as waves of high school seniors turned their tassels and took to the roads in celebration. The operation had troopers out in full force, patrolling school zones from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, handing out tickets for any and all violations.

According to Grady, Wayne County's Highway Patrol troop handed out 1,239 traffic and criminal violations during the week-long campaign. Of those tickets, 384 were for speeding.

None of the violations involved driving while intoxicated charges for drivers under 21. One of the chief aims of the campaign was to keep teenagers who had been drinking from getting behind the wheel.

The campaign carried a zero tolerance policy, Grady said. No warning tickets were issued.

"It was a big effort on the part of everybody, everybody put a lot of work into it," Grady said.

The governor called for the operation as a response to the 139 North Carolina teenage deaths in highway traffic accidents last year, a number she said was unacceptable.

The effort involved enforcement in and around 1,146 school zones across the state, as well as education and awareness seminars in 164 different schools.

The seminars involved bringing awareness to teens about the risks of texting while driving, as well as other distractions, said Sgt. Jeff Gordon, a Highway Patrol spokesman. Safety information officers were assigned to individual schools, where they focused on driver's education classes, ordinary classrooms, civic organizations and parents, presenting simulations in which students attempted to drive a golf cart while texting, showing them just how risky these types of distractions can be.

"We're trying to think outside the box," Gordon said, describing the collaborative effort the operation took with teens, parents and school officials. "It's all about educating."

Gordon said the end of the school year is an especially dangerous time for teenage drivers.

"I can remember graduating. You're pumped up. The last thing you're worried about is how you're driving," he said.

Gordon noted that the patrol will likely come up with a similar effort when teenagers return to class.

"At the start of the next school year, we'll be back at it again," he said. "This isn't a one-time deal."

Grady agreed. He said Wayne can expect to see another Drive to Live campaign.

"We have gotten nothing but great responses," he said. "Just a good, positive reaction from everybody."