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Freeway Watch taking safety message to class

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A highway safety group wants to sprinkle a little prevention in classrooms statewide.

Freeway Watch on Tuesday received a $10,000 grant from Allstate Foundation and insurance company to purchase 150 "Driver's Education 99" software packages to supplement such courses in all state high schools. The money also will be used to maintain the nonprofit group's Web site, which offers tips on how to recognize and report drunken drivers."We're supportive of materials that enhance the driver education program in all of our high schools. We appreciate donations that contribute to the effectiveness of that program," said Gail Johnson, state education specialist for driver education.

The initiative aims to increase safe driving and ax teenage drinking and driving in time for the 2002 Winter Games, a move supported by law enforcement agencies, the PTA, driver education teachers, Gov. Mike Leavitt and Lt. Gov. Olene Walker, who at a press conference read a proclamation declaring September as "Operation 2002: Youth Safe Driving" month in Utah.

"The necessity for safety is an international issue . . . because of the mass driving that is going to occur during (the Olympics) and the need for heightened safety and because drivers ages 16 to 25 are having an increase in crashes and drinking and driving," said Suzanne Peterson, Heber City resident and president of Freeway Watch.

Freeway Watch began in 1994 after Peterson's husband, Utah Highway Patrol trooper Jeff Peterson, in investigating a fatal drunken driving accident, was asked by the victim's family how to prevent such tragedies.

The $30 driver education CD-ROMs, created by Washington state-based Sierra software company, include driving simulation programs, instructional material, quizzes and a drunken driving simulator to help students understand reaction time delays and other consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol.

The software, which also includes lessons on road rage and aggressive driving, will be available to the public in two weeks. Peterson hopes to distribute it to driver education teachers by month's end.

Johnson said the software has been viewed by the Utah Driver and Traffic Safety Education Board, made up of driver education teachers and administrators, the Department of Public Safety's Highway Safety Office and the Division of Motor Vehicles.

"We're here with companies, agencies and law enforcement who have come here to say, `We're going to clean up this mess,' " said Mary Phillips, vice president of the Utah chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, during the press conference. "I'm proud to be a part of this."

Her daughter, Elizabeth Phillips, was killed after being struck by a car driven by then-16-year-old Laramie Huntzinger, who was driving under the influence of alcohol.