Photos by Valerie Urbanik | Civitas Media
Amherst police chief Joseph Kucirek talks with Blake Schwartz of Avon at the start of the driving test.
Courtesy photo Lori Cook, safety advisor of AAA East Central, Lorain County JVS school resource officer Tony Pluta, and JVS principal Jill Petitti stand with top three winners Dudley Taw of Brookside, John Fuge of Firelands, and Madison Fortune of Clearview.
Mindful of many roadway deaths this year, 75 young drivers competed Friday in the 7th Annual Lorain County Young Driver Competition at the Lorain County JVS.
Two of the best teenaged drivers from each school district in the county competed to win the top prize of $500 from AAA.
Lori Cook, safety advisor for AAA East Central, said juniors and seniors with a good driving history — no tickets or crashes — were selected by their principals to compete in the challenge.
“These are all good kids that follow the law,” said JVS principal Jill Petitti.
Students completed an obstacle course, driving through cones, around curbs, parallel parking, weaving through tennis ball lanes with just two-inch clearance on either side, and stopping in front of a yellow line.
Police officers and sheriff’s deputies were judges and awarded points to those who zipped through with responsible practices behind the wheel.
Trooper Justin Lister of the Ohio State Highway Patrol walked the students through the course and answered questions before the tests began.
“Even though those are cones out there, treat them like people,” he said.
Lister encouraged teens to slowly drive through the course. “There’s no time limit,” he said.
Austin Hembree of Amherst and Caleb Kiser of Wellington said they were excited to participate in the competition but also nervous. Kiser was especially wary of navigating the narrow tennis ball lanes.
Hembree had an advantage, climbing behind the wheel of the same model car he drives every day.
The students also completed a written test on Ohio driving laws and a memory test that tasked their memorization abilities. “We took pictures throughout Lorain County to test their recall,” Petitti said.
According to AAA, automobile crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 20. In Ohio, the fatality rate is up 17 percent statewide this year.
Dudley Taw of Brookside took home the grand prize of $500. John Fuge of Firelands earned $250 for second place and Madison Fortune of Clearview received $100 for third place.
Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @ValUrbanik.