The death of three teens in a single-vehicle accident highlighted the need for local resources.
Three years ago, Braden Lewis followed in his older brother's path, registering for a defensive driving class at the request of his parents. Then age 15, he was checking a box to get an insurance discount and make his parents happy.
It was frustrating to have to drive to a class in Braselton, GA, more than two hours from his home near Augusta, GA. Expecting routine instruction from the program, Braden experienced much more: He was put in real-world risky driving situations, including how to avoid distractions and overcorrections, two of the most common threats to new drivers. His instruction called for him to intentionally swerve out of his lane and run off the road, for example.
"The class went way beyond what I learned driving with Mom and Dad," says Braden, now a senior at Greenbriar High School in Evans, GA. "It was all about life-saving, practical skills."
That lifesaving focus particularly resonated with Braden because three teens in his community had recently died in a single-vehicle accident. Braden was convinced every teen could benefit from what he learned in the program conducted by the Teen Vehicle Operations Course (TVOC), a non-profit that conducts safety classes taught by police officers around Georgia and Alabama for new drivers. He just knew it needed to be closer to home in order for Augusta teens to participate.
The timing was perfect. Braden also needed to pick his senior project.
Braden worked with leaders of TVOC to make his dream of bringing the class to Augusta a reality. He communicated with local high school principals and teachers to promote the upcoming class, used social media and flyers to advertise in the schools, and reached out to local media for public service announcements. In January, TVOC filled two classes in the Augusta area.
"Learning these skills is so important for every new driver," says Stacey Lewis, Braden's mom. "That first time you see them drive off by themselves is jarring, almost indescribable. Some of the children of my friends signed up for a class organized by Braden — that in itself was rewarding."
Braden hopes the initial Augusta classes are only the beginning, and wants the local classes to live far beyond the completion of his senior project.
"I hope parents and teens are able to see the importance of this class," says Braden. "I would love to have enough teens engaged to offer the course multiple times a year in our community."
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