A local insurance agency saw Friday’s Effingham County-South Effingham football game as the ideal place and time to kick off a safe driving initiative for teenagers.
It just happened to come on the heels of Effingham’s most recent fatal crash. An Effingham County High School teacher, her mother and an ECHS graduate died as a result of the Sept. 7 wreck, and a current ECHS student was seriously injured.
“As our community has continued to strive to teach safe driving, it becomes even more important as we’ve lost three lives that are connected to the community this week,” ECHS Principal Yancy Ford said Friday.
Darrel Hutcheson’s State Farm insurance agency in Garden City set up a tent at Rebel Field for the local launch of Celebrate My Drive. The nationwide program sponsored by State Farm encourages teens to make good decisions behind the wheel, particularly keeping two eyes on the road and two hands on the wheel.
Both of Effingham County’s high schools are participating in the campaign, held in conjunction with National Teen Driver Safety Week. Between Oct. 15-24, students can log onto www.celebratemydrive.com and make a pledge to stay safe on the road.
“We just have to keep pounding that message home to them that they have to be safe, they have to think about what they’re doing on the roads,” said SEHS Principal Mark Winters.
It’s not just students who can take part, though. Parents, school faculty and staff, and community members can make the safe driving pledge online.
The two high schools in the U.S. with the highest number of safe driving commitments will receive the grand prize, a $100,000 grant and a concert by The Band Perry. Eight other schools will win $100,000 grants and 90 will receive $25,000 grants.
“There’s no reason why we can’t win it here locally,” Hutcheson said.
State Farm agent Robert Sellars cited statistics that, since January 2010, the Georgia State Patrol has worked 406 wrecks in Effingham County. Those crashes resulted in 318 injuries and 28 deaths.
Sellars said he hopes Celebrate My Drive will increase safe driving awareness and discussion — among students, parents, teachers and others in the community.
“It’s all about getting the conversation started, and I don’t believe we’ve been doing enough of it here,” he said.
While the initiative focuses on teen driving, the school principals and local Celebrate My Drive organizers all were quick to point out that adults have caused a number of local wrecks as well. Sellars said he had a close call just a few days earlier when a woman talking on her phone drove through a stop sign at an intersection.
“We need everybody’s support,” Ford said. “We need the families, the community, the business owners, we need everybody to find a way to stress safe driving.”
Effingham County High teacher Megan Kessler and her mother Marlys Strempke died at the scene of the Sept. 7 wreck on Old Augusta Road, and ECHS alumnus Karlie Miles succumbed to her injuries three days later. Miles’ death was Effingham’s fifth traffic-related fatality in 11 days, starting with the deaths of two women in separate single-car crashes over Labor Day weekend.
While the latest fatal wreck hit the ECHS community hard, it also was felt at South Effingham. Kessler’s husband Daniel was in SEHS’ first graduating class, according to Winters.
“It doesn’t matter what side of the county the people are from, it’s all from Effingham County,” Winters said, “and we have to start being safer on these roads.”
How to participate
Log onto www.celebratemydrive.com between Oct. 15-24 and pledge to stay safe on the road. One pledge can be made per email address per day.