JOHNS CREEK – A half dozen photographs of smiling teenagers lined the front of Johns Creek’s municipal courtroom on a recent Wednesday evening. Ranging in age and background, they all had one thing in common – each had been killed in an automobile accident.
The photographs were displayed as a reminder of what can happen when young drivers are distracted or speed while operating a vehicle. And with thousands of teens on local roads, Johns Creek wants to make sure drivers are safe.
The city of Johns Creek noticed a disproportionate number of drivers under 21 who were receiving tickets for a variety of violations, and they knew something needed to be done, said Tony Day, Johns Creek Clerk of Court.
In July 2009, a group of volunteers – including Day, city solicitors and various law enforcement officials – began devoting their time once a month on a Wednesday evening to teach young drivers safety tips.
S.T.O.P (Solicitor. Teen. Officer. Parent.) is a teen safe-driving program designed by the Johns Creek Police Department and the municipal court to reduce the number of teen-related traffic accidents and repeat violators in the city.
“We have a passion for this program, and we have been getting great response and feedback from those who’ve been a part of it,” said Day.
The free program has both mandatory and voluntary components. Teens, ages 17-20, may be ordered by the city solicitor or municipal judge to participate in the mandatory module.
Parents and teens may also choose to participate in the voluntary module. Parents can register their teen driver, car and contact information with the police department, and a decal is issued to the parents to place on the window of the vehicle. If the vehicle is stopped by a Johns Creek police officer while being operated by a driver under 21, the officer will notify the parents.
“STOP teaches young adults driver safety, and it gives the opportunity to teach how the laws apply to them,” said Day.
STOP is held at 7 p.m. at the Johns Creek municipal court on the third Wednesday of each month. The program has also been introduced to the three local high schools, where volunteers present the driver safety education course.
Bill Richardson, a retired Gwinnett County police officer, started the STOP program in Gwinnett County. At a recent STOP program session in Johns Creek, Richardson told the audience - more than 40 teens and their parents attended - what he said are two important objectives to remember.
“Number one, you need to get rid of the mindset of ‘it won’t happen to me,’” said Richardson. “And, number two, wear that seatbelt…so many teens would be alive today if they’d worn their seatbelt.”
Richardson said distractions, speed and not paying attention are often contributors to accidents involving teens.
“It doesn’t make a difference who you are, it can happen to anyone,” he said.
Richardson showed a handful of videos in which car crashes were reenacted. The crashes were discussed with the audience, and Richardson answered several questions from teens and parents.
Richardson invited Jan Norton to speak to the audience. Her daughter, Clara Ann Norton, was killed Jan. 1 in a car crash. Clara was not wearing her seatbelt, she said.
“I challenge all of you to buckle up,” said Norton, who fought back tears as she spoke. “If she had worn her seatbelt, she would be here.”
If interested in the STOP voluntary module, call Johns Creek Police Community Services at 678-474-1551, or complete the online registration form at www.johnscreekga.gov. Registration forms are also available at the Johns Creek Police Department.