Teens compete for cash at safe-driving contest

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Thirty-three students from 11 high schools were surrounded Tuesday by local, state and Allegheny County police officers, but there were no tickets or citations.

The teenagers were there voluntarily to learn and to win some cash at the fourth Allegheny County Teen Safe Driving Competition at the Pittsburgh Technical Institute in North Fayette.

The driving skills part of the test did not feature high-speed, high-skill driving on a race track or obstacle course. The test was a low-speed drive through and around orange traffic cones but it wasn't easy, participants said.

What about the students pedaling on low slung three-wheeled vehicles? Why did they keep bumping into traffic cones? Because they were wearing "fatal vision goggles" provided by the New Sewickley Police Department. The goggles impair and distort vision and distances, mimicking the feeling of driving drunk, said Trooper First Class Robin Mungo from the Pittsburgh station of the Pennsylvania State Police.

In six years, 32 young people were killed in Allegheny County crashes, said organizers of the event. More than 12,000 young people were involved in the crashes, and over 3,000 were injured.

Those figures motivated the Allegheny County Health Department to get "traffic safety partners" and launch the Allegheny County Teen Safe Driving Competition three years ago. The partners, in addition to PTI and police departments, include Allstate Foundation, AAA East Central, Allegheny County Pretrial Services, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, Pennsylvania DUI Association, Pennsylvania Motor Trucking Association, PennDOT District 11, Traffic Injury Prevention Program and Safe Driver Institute.

The half-day session included a written test that students said was much longer -- and harder -- than the tests they passed to get their Pennsylvania drivers licenses.

The winners were:

• Best Team award ($500) -- Shaler Area High School, won by Maddie Seel, Eric Spiker and Ellie Siwicki, all juniors.

• First place ($1,000) -- Cornell High School senior Peter Bartolomucci.

• Second place ($500) -- Moon Area High School senior Taylor Scales.

• Third place ($250) -- North Allegheny High School senior Garrett Besonson.

Peter said he plans to join the military after graduation, and will use his award "to pay some bills."

Taylor, who will go next year to Slippery Rock University on a track scholarship, said she'll buy supplies and dorm furnishings.

The Shaler team said their winnings go to their school, and they hope the money is applied to the Youth Advocacy League they participate in. YAL is a social justice organization at Shaler Area High School, directed by Gregg Dietz, a prevention/intervention counselor who brought the students to the driving competition.

Mr. Dietz said Maddie came to him last year after a friend of her brother, Max, was killed in a motorcycle accident. She wanted some good to come out of a tragic situation.

Adam Schuster, 20, of Shaler, a Duquesne University student, "was like a second brother to me," Maddie said.

She worked with Mr. Dietz to organize a YIELD Conference -- Youth Involved in Education of Legal Drivers.

The conference was held in Adam's memory, and speakers included Trooper Mongo and local attorney Edgar Snyder.

"She got 220 kids to show up" at the conference on safe driving," Mr. Dietz said. Maddie and other students from Moon, Shaler and North Allegheny are now working on a seatbelt awareness program, and will be competing to see which school gets the most students to wear seatbelts.

Maddie invited Eric and Ellie to come to the contest Tuesday at PTI.

Some students said they were "randomly selected." Teachers and school officials said the students who came had drivers licenses, good driving records and good grades.

Schools in the competition were Bethel Park, Chartiers Valley, Cornell, Keystone Oaks, Moon Area, North Allegheny, Northgate, Riverview, Shaler, South Park and Sto-Rox.


Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0087.


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