September 22, 2004 | By: Aimee Heald-Nielson
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky.

In 2002, Ronda Rex lost her brother in a car accident. She said that part of the grieving process was to find ways to make other drivers safer on the roads, so she started a teen driving safety program in Campbell County called Teens on Wheels. This year more than 75 students participated.

Rex is a Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer sciences in Campbell County. She started Teens on Wheels in 2003 as a way to help educate teens and their parents about ways to be safe and minimize distractions while driving.

“The top three road killers are speed, not wearing safety belts and alcohol,” she said. “This is the second year for the program and it’s grown so much. I’d like to see it get even bigger. We just want to help save lives.”

Rex got help from many community partners including the Kentucky Department of Transportation and the Highland Heights Police Department.

“A lot of kids we see, whether we stop them for a traffic infraction or they are involved in an accident, are just not paying attention or they are not aware of the laws and regulations of driving,” said Sgt. Tom Stubbeman of the Highland Heights Police Department. “This program reinforces things they may already have learned and teaches things they might not know yet.”

Participating students must have a driver’s permit and their parents must attend the program with them, largely due to regulations of the KDT Drive Smart program’s electric car. There was a John Deere Gator available for 15-year-olds who do not have permits.

Students were able to maneuver through a course in a small electric car. The course
was complicated by students having to wear “fatal vision goggles” that simulated driving under the influence of alcohol. They also performed other tasks while wearing the goggles, including shooting baskets and throwing balls at a Velcro target board. Most students were surprised how different their perception was while wearing the goggles.

Officers and program coordinators also showed students that other distractions such as stereos, cell phones and just talking to others in the car can reduce a driver’s capability to fully pay attention to the road and his/her surroundings.

Kim Blanchet attended Teens on Wheels with her 16-year-old son Dustin Baird to help prepare him for full-time driving.

“I think it’s important to give him the opportunity to experience driving before he gets behind the wheel on a full-time basis,” she said. “He gets to experience hazards he might face out on the real road.”

Baird, who attends Newport Central Catholic, said maybe this program could help calm his mother’s anxiety about him starting to drive on his own.

“I hope to get more experience so that I know what I’m doing and know what other people are doing,” he said. “I hope my mom can be calmer and that I can just learn to be safe and learn what to do if something goes wrong.”

Campbell County Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Program Assistant Barb Jo Heck said having the parents at the event is very important.

“The reason we want parents to come is that most kids don’t want to come to a driving program and most parents are scared to death about their kids driving,” she said. “We thought we could get two audiences here and it’s good for parents to see what their kids are learning.”

Contact: 

Writer: Aimee D. Nielson 859-257-4736, ext. 267

Source: Ronda Rex 859-572-2600