By Keith Gushard
Gabrielle Kundar knew the material but didn’t know how successful she’d be in channeling her self-assuredness into the skills portion of Tuesday’s Crawford County Young Driver Skills Competition.
Kundar, 18, a senior at Maplewood High School, took top honors among the 21 competitors at the fifth annual competition.
“I was a little surprised,” Kundar said following the competition. “I was confident on the written and perception tests, but the driving test — not so much.”
The three-member student teams from seven area schools faced off on written, perception and driving skills tests at Tuesday’s event held at New Beginnings Church of God in West Mead Township.
The written test was on knowledge of laws, while the perception test involved students seeing images for a few seconds and then answering questions about what they saw.
The skills competition put each student behind the wheel of a Dodge Dart in a slow speed driving competition that emphasized good judgment by drivers. At stations along the course, students had to weave the car through pylons, park along a simulated curb, perform a cornering exercise, and place both the front and rear bumpers of the car as close to a line as possible.
“The bumper tests were the hardest,” Kundar said of knowing where the leading and rear edges of the car were.
Kundar’s score put her at the top of the list — earning her a check of $1,000 from Allstate Insurance and the right to represent Crawford County at the state level of competition May 9 in Camp Hill. The winner of the state event receives a $5,000 scholarship and other prizes.
Cochranton Junior-Senior High School students Brianna Lippert and Molly Kennedy took second- and third-place honors, respectively. Lippert earned a $500 prize from Allstate Insurance and other prizes along with an opportunity to go to the state competition. Kennedy earned a $300 prize from Allstate and other prizes.
Lippert, Kennedy and teammate Aubrey Hering of Cochranton had the highest combined team score, sending the team trophy to Cochranton. The former Conneaut Lake High School won last year’s competition.
Crawford County Sheriff Nick Hoke said the students from area high schools all had shown good driving skills, but the program hopefully reinforces on students what’s needed to drive an automobile.
“The No. 1 problem is inexperience,” Hoke said.
Teens learning that lesson can have a greater impact on making roads safer, Hoke said, because teen drivers are involved in far more traffic accidents than their numbers in the total population of drivers because of inexperience.
Hoke said in one week in March there were five accidents nationwide that claimed the lives of 20 teenagers, including six lives near Youngstown, Ohio.
“We’re not seeing the changes we hope to see in this age group,” Hoke said of accidents decreasing among teen drivers.
Hoke said it’s the desire to lower the number of teens involved in crashes that’s brought the sheriff’s office, local Allstate Insurance agent David Jones, AAA East Central, the Pennsylvania Motor Trucking Association, Meadville Medical Center Foundation, Griffin Motors, Howick Motors and other sponsors together for the competition.
Contacts in the county’s schools publicize the event, and interested juniors and seniors with clean driving records must pass a test to be considered for the countywide event.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.