Tullahoma High School has added a new program designed to increase student safety for teen drivers, according to school officials.
Starting this school year, all sophomore students will be required to participate in the state health department’s Checkpoints Program before they receive a parking pass for the school campus.
According to THS Principal Kathy Rose, the idea of implementing state program aimed at reducing the number of teen motor vehicle crashes came from Coordinated School Health Coordinator Gina Bumbalough, who approached her during summer break after she’d seen a presentation about the program at a conference.
“We talked about different ways that we could go about doing it, and we thought maybe the best way would be to go ahead … and start with our sophomores,” Rose said.
Rose said she thought the idea sounded like a great way to increase student safety on the THS campus, so she gave Bumbalough the green light to set up the program’s health department presentations.
Noting that Williamson County Schools introduced the Checkpoints Program in 2017 following a number of crash-related student deaths, Rose said, “They had a number of students that they lost in car accidents, and they implemented this and have seen come good results from it.”
Rose’s hope is that the program inspires students to be smarter drivers, particularly on the THS campus. If students are more aware of driving laws and educate themselves on safe driving, it may help prevent accidents.
“It’s never good when you lose a student,” she said, “and if this keeps us from losing one, it’s time well spent.”
What is Checkpoints?
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, the Checkpoints Program was designed by the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development to increase the safety of new teen drivers by bringing parents and teens together to develop and discuss rules for teens’ first year of “unsupervised driving.”
According to the department, the program provides parents information about the risks teens face when they are first licensed, how they can make their children’s driving safer and how to effectively communicate with their teens about safe driving.
The parents and teens come up with a written agreement that set firm guidelines for each teenager’s first solo-driving year.
The parent-teen agreements cover multiple facets of driving, including nighttime driving, driving in adverse weather, driving with other teen passengers and driving on certain roads.
Each new driver can negotiate agreements about each of the conditions, such as only driving during rainy weather during the daytime or never driving after 8 p.m. except for approved school-related functions like sporting events or club meetings.
By fostering an open conversation between parent and child, Checkpoints allows for a thorough discussion about driving and traffic laws.
According to Bumbalough, not only does the program decrease the risk factors for teen drivers, it also helps form a better connection between parent and child and educate both on current driving and traffic laws.
State laws on driver’s licenses have changed dramatically since she received hers, Bumbalough said, so having this program available as a resource was a positive step.
“When I got my driver’s license, I didn’t have a graduated license,” she said, referencing the current license laws for teen drivers. “[Checkpoints] helps the parents go over what the laws are.”
Additionally, she said, it helps remove the awkwardness of parents and teens having this particular conversation, because everyone in the room is having the same conversation.
“It gives a chance for the parent and their child to have a conversation and not feel weird, because everybody’s doing it,” she said.
Bumbalough, a Williamson County native and health professional, said she found the loss of student life in that county several years ago particularly heartbreaking.
“This program came out … and it made a difference in their county,” she said.
When she saw the program working, Bumbalough said she thought it a worthwhile endeavor to bring to Tullahoma.
“It’s worth anyone’s time to do a 45-minute class to learn more and to be able to be safer,” she said.
Beginning this year, all sophomores and new students will have to take the Checkpoints class and fill out the parent-teen agreement to receive a parking permit for school grounds, Rose said.
Current juniors and seniors, however, will be grandfathered into the system and won’t be required to participate this year, she added.
“We feel like they’ve been at it a while,” Rose said.
The school does not keep the agreement, according to Rose. Students need only show that they and their parents have filled out and signed the agreement in order to receive their parking permit.
“Rather than hoping that people would do it, we thought it we tie it to your car tag at school, maybe it’ll make you more cognizant, more aware when you’re driving – especially on campus,” Rose said.
The process will repeat each year, according to Rose, until every class at THS has gone through the program.
For more information on Checkpoints, visit www.reducetncrashes.org/activities and click on Checkpoints Parent-Teen Driving Agreement Program.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.