NC 2nd deadliest state for teen drivers, AAA wants changes

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DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. — Monday will mark two years since Suzie Simmons lost her 17-year-old son in an SUV crash.

Justin Simmons was riding in the front passenger seat of an SUV.  His friend, Jacob Foster Nance, 17, was driving.

They and two of their buddies were leaving High Point Christian Academy on Phillips Avenue. There was a car turning left, and as it started to turn, Nance crossed the center line to pass it.

Police said Nance was speeding. The SUV started to slide, then rolled several times, throwing Nance and Justin from the vehicle. Justin died at the scene.

“Justin may still be here if he were wearing a seat belt. It’s something he was taught from day one, and I don’t know why–you get four boys together. They’re seniors. They’re excited to be graduating, it’s Friday and they were in a hurry. Nobody thought about it,” Suzie Simmons said.

It’s tragedies like Justin’s and Jacob’s that has Triple A criticizing the state school system.

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association looked at deadly crashes within the first six months of 2011. North Carolina was second in the country for the most driving deaths among kids ages 16 and 17.

The state had 17 deaths that fit in the category. North Carolina trailed only Texas, which had 26 teens die on roads during the same time period.

“Number two is huge. Out of 50 states, number two is horrible,” Simmons said.

Triple A wants the state to revamp its drivers training program to focus more on driver safety.

According to Triple A, the current program teaches students about safety, but it’s much too broad and includes lessons on car maintenance and which cars sell better than others.

“North Carolina doesn’t even meet the national standards on the amount of time devoted to driver safety, which nationally is 40 hours in the classroom and 10 hours behind the wheel,” said Neil Doroshenko of AAA.

“They need to teach them in Drivers Ed what can happen if you’re not wearing a seatbelt, speeding, if you happen to fall asleep, run off the road or overcorrect,” Simmons said.

Simmons doesn’t want other parents to have to lose a child, which is why she visits schools and talks to kids about the importance of safe driving. She even changed her license plate to have it read, “just buckle up.”

“I don’t think enough of this is being taught in schools,” Simmons said.

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