PHOENIXVILLE >> With up to $2,000 on the line, 26 high school students from across a five-county area tested their skills behind the wheel Wednesday.
Students participated in the second annual Teen Safe Driving Competition at the Technical College High School Pickering Campus in Phoenixville.
The competition is designed to emphasize the importance of safety among new drivers by testing their road abilities and knowledge. The first place prize winner received a $2,000 scholarship and will compete in the state finals for a chance at $10,000 May 12. The second and third place finishers received $1,000 and $500 in scholarships, respectively.
The event is organized by the Bucks County Transportation Management Association, Chester County Highway Safety Project, Delaware County Transportation Management Association, Montgomery County Health Department and Street Smarts Philadelphia Highway Safety Project. Among the schools that participated included Chichester, Sun Valley, North Penn, Souderton, Technical College and Upper Merion high schools. Central Bucks East High School and Swenson Arts and Technology also sent students.
“The goal for today is obviously safety,” said Katie Kucz, community health facilitator with the Montgomery County Health Department. “We want all teens to be safe on the road, so this competition is a fun way to do that.”
Students began the day with an educational panel discussion with different community members about their careers and how a vehicle accident affects them differently.
Students were then divided into three groups and began the competition, which was divided into three phases including a driving skills test, perception test and a written test. During the driving skills test, Kevin Stuart, director of safety with the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, said they looks at a student’s ability behind the wheel.
“We have them do some serpentine maneuvers,” he said. “To be able to negotiate through an off-set alley. We have curb-side parking … It’s intended to challenge your driving skills and you get scored based on that.”
The perception test showed students an image from a real-life driving situation for 10 seconds. Then they were asked three true-or-false questions to correspond to the image to test their memory. Lastly was the written test, which was similar to a learners permit test. During each stage, students were given points. The driving skills test was worth 75 points, while the perception and written test were each 45 points. The top three students from each phase would receive $100, $75 or $50.
Students were also tested on a pretrip inspection of a vehicle for a chance at a $25 gift card. They then spoke with a driver of a tractor trailer to learn about a truck driver’s blind spots and how to avoid an accident.
Cell phone usage was not permitted during the competition, and any students caught using their phone would’ve been disqualified.
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Morgan Crummy, community services officer for Skippack Barracks, said the competition was a great way to get students to learn about driving before they get behind the wheel again.
“It’s a good day for them,” she said. “It gets them out doing things and having fun, but also learning what distractions and what concerns are out there and how they stay safe.”
Distracted driving, she said, has become one of the biggest hazards for teen drivers. Anything from cellphone usage, to food and friends are all areas of concern for those trying to focus on the road.
Students said they enjoyed the challenges and actually learned a lot.
“The driving test looks easy,” Kyle Somers, a Sun Valley senior, said, “but it’s actually kind of hard and I actually learned a lot just from the panel.”
Jaleel McKenzie, a Swenson junior, said he appreciated the goal behind the competition, even if it was difficult.
“It’s shown me a lot of important things,” he said, “and how much I know about driving.”
“The competition as a whole is a great competition for the youth,”Stuart said. “It’s unfortunate so many of our schools are dropping driver education, because I think it’s important particularly because there are a lot of concerns about teen driving and distracted driving. I think these types of competitions really drive home some of the important things that they need to know when they get behind the wheel.”