StreetSafe — Driving program for teens has real benefits

Published 5:26 pm Saturday, February 15, 2014

Texting while driving, speeding, going for a ride without a seatbelt, not obeying traffic signs — often those with newly laminated driver’s licenses may be tempted to push the limits and break the law.

But that type of behavior can bring about costly court fees and insurance increases. Now, a new program offered to local drivers is aiming to change that behavior and, perhaps, provide first-time offenders ages 16 to 24 years old with a way to have traffic charges against them dismissed.

District Attorney Seth Edwards announced last week that the Second Judicial District, including Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell and Washington counties, would be implementing StreetSafe, a program designed to make a community safer by giving its youth the tools to become safer drivers.

Classroom instruction is combined with actual driving exercises simulating dangerous situations: driving on wet pavement; how texting while driving distracts attention; what it feels like to experience a small collision without a seat belt; and it even includes the operation of a golf cart while wearing “beer goggles” that simulate impairment. Each simulation is taught by highly trained first-responders with assistance from other court personnel and insurance experts, according to Edwards.

“This program is nothing like I have ever seen, because it actually puts the young driver behind the wheel, with a trained instructor, in a controlled environment,” Edwards said.

Started by a retired law-enforcement officer in Wilmington, StreetSafe has been implemented across North Carolina and in surrounding states, as its benefits have become observed. According to the StreetSafe website, University of North Carolina’s Highway Safety Research Center statistics show a significant crash reduction in the counties where StreetSafe has initiated regular monthly sessions. In the U.S., traffic accidents kill more 16- to 24-year-olds than the next four leading causes of death combined.

The program has the full support of North Carolina State Highway Patrol’s 1st Sgt. Brandon Craft, who said he plans to enroll his 14-year-old son when the time comes for him to take the wheel.

“Really, there’s nothing else around here that’s like it,” Craft said. “It’s a great way for kids to realize the dangers that are out there when they’re texting and driving too fast and not wearing their seatbelt. … It’s so they can see for themselves how dangerous it is. Hopefully, it will deter them in the future from doing that or doing something else.”

The program lasts 4 1/2 hours, the cost per student is $110 and for participants under age 18, a parent is required to attend the first hour of the program. The first StreetSafe event is tentatively scheduled for March 29 at Washington High School.

Edwards said he is so confident in the benefits of the program that he plans to dismiss certain traffic citations for first-time offenders between 16 and 24 years of age who complete the StreetSafe program — an unprecedented event. To determine whether a 16- to 24-year-old offender qualifies for the program, the offender or his attorney must appear in court on the scheduled court date for the district attorney or assistance district attorney to make that determination. Most violations for speeding, texting while driving, stop light or stop sign and even seat belts will qualify, provided the offender has not completed the StreetSafe program elsewhere, Edwards said.

“While the cost of the program seems high, it pales in comparison to court costs, driver’s license revocations and insurance increases, and let’s not forgot the most important benefit may be the prevention of serious injury or death from a motor-vehicle collision,” Edwards explained.

Edwards noted that he plans to enroll his three girls — ages 15, 18 and 20 — even though they all have clean driving records and no pending charges.

“This program provides what we call a teachable moment for young drivers, and I want my own kids to experience this in hopes of avoiding something bad in the future,” Edwards said.

While Craft said no one should look at the program as a way to get out of a ticket, its completion can serve as a lesson learned and a deterrent for future unsafe driving.

“Everybody makes a mistake, and at some point they may get caught for speeding,” Craft said. “When they’re young like that, it’s great to have an avenue where it won’t stay on their record for the rest of their life.”

StreetSafe is open to all drivers, regardless of age and whether or not they have pending charges, but only 16- to 24-year-old first-offenders are eligible for potential citation dismissals, Edwards said.

To sign up for StreetSafe, visit, or obtain a written application in court from the district attorney. For first-offenders with driving infractions, participants will receive a certificate, which can then be presented to the district attorney for review.