DENVILLE, N.J. - Like most first responders, Denville Police Officer Richard Duda has seen way too many tragic car accidents involving teen drivers.
So Duda, who serves as the school resource officer for the Morris County School of Technology, is taking seriously National Teen Driver Safety Week, which runs from Oct. 17 through Oct. 21.
Often, teen driver education focuses on what the young motorists should do when behind the wheel. Duda is going to focus on what they shouldn't do.
During the five days of National Teen Driver Safety Week, Duda will talk to students about the five behind-the-wheel activities that puts drivers most at risk: Drugs and alcohol, failure to wear seatbelts, distracted driving, speeding and extra passengers.
The "5 to Drive" campaign will entail announcements each morning covering one of those five actions, said Morris County Vocational School District spokeswoman Gina DiDomenico.
"In addition, our students in the Academy for Design designed and created posters that will be hung throughout campus outlining the five greatest reasons for teen accident involvement," DiDomenico said.
Duda, who has been a police officer for 15 years, doesn't just admonish teen drivers for dangerous behavior. He also rewards them, for doing it right, by handing out gift cards.
"Basically, what I do is I will go out into the student parking lot as they are coming and going," Duda said. "I'll head out there and look at cars to make sure they adhere to all the graduated driver laws by having the stickers on the license plates. I'll look to see if they're wearing seatbelts. I'll check to make sure there's not more than passenger in the car and that they're proceeding with due caution."
The officer will approach the compliant drivers, chat with them and give them gift cards for meals at a local restaurant, Duda said. "I will just reward them for all their good work toward safe driving," he commented.
It's the type of thing that prompted DiDomenico to praise Duda, who has an office in the school and is on campus every day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. "He is great resource officer," she said. "He does a lot to motivate students and entice them to pay attention and follow the rules."
Duda said finding motivation is easy, given the crash scenes he's seen. "Unfortunately, there's not a year that goes by where we don't see some kind of really bad teen-involved accident," he said.