East Tennessee rural teen drivers selected for new UT program

East Tennessee rural teen drivers selected for new UT program

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By JAMIE LYNN DROHAN
6 News Reporter 

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - According to the University of Tennessee's Institute of Transportation Engineers, rural drivers often drive longer distances at higher speeds, many times not wearing a seatbelt.

Many rural drivers also become bored and use their cell phones. If you add that the driver is a teenager, it could be a recipe for disaster.

That's why UT has created a new program to educate young drivers and help with safety on rural roads.

Eighty students from Cumberland County High School and Wartburg Central High School were randomly selected to take a distracted driving seminar at UT.

Brandon Golden, 16, is a junior at Cumberland County High School. He's had his license less than a month. He says he's a pretty good driver, but admits he has used his cell phone while driving.

"It's just one of those things, like if you have a text you have to do it. If somebody is calling you have to answer," Golden said.

The point of Wednesday's simulation was to educate teen drivers about the dangers of driving in rural areas.

During Golden's driving simulation, he was asked to text and talk on the phone while driving. He wound up swerving and even hitting a few simulated deer.

"In a rural setting down a two-lane road, you might pass one car every five minutes and it's really easy to want to text on your phone because you get bored or things like that. Then you have an incident where wildlife walks out in front of you or you miss a curve and it's really important. You need to be alert at all times," said UT graduate assistant Ryan Overton.

According to the institute, 26% of Tennesseans live in rural areas. However, 54 percent of road fatalities in the state are in rural areas.

Instructors with the rural teen driver education program plan to take all the data they gathered from the students Wednesday and present it to their classes in the coming months as a review.

The instructors also hope to make this an annual event for teen drivers. "Driving is not a game, and in a blink of an eye it can take your life," Overton said.

Not too long after Golden got his license, he lost control of his truck and crashed into a tree. He says his seatbelt saved his life and he always remembers to wear it.

He also says he won't be driving while using his phone and has learned his lesson. "I am not going to do it anymore. I am done using the phone while driving," Golden said.

Officials at UT say the goals of the program are to provide driver safety education and to give kids an introduction to science and engineering through driving.

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