Four high school students dying of personal injuries suffered in automobile accidents in central and eastern North Carolina over the past week have reinforced the message of a month dedicated to teaching young people how to drive safely.


On April 23. North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue signed a proclamation declaring May to be "North Carolina Youth Traffic Safety Month."


On May 1, 17-year-old Elm City resident Michael Turner Jr. was killed in a crash on West Mount and Old Carriage roads near Rocky Mount.


On April 28, 16-year-old Jesse Ferrell, a student at South Johnston High School, was killed in a collision with his best friend's vehicle as they were on their way to school.


On April 24, 18-year-old Aberdeen resident Kaleb Valliant and 18-year-old Raeford resident Thadius Markle were killed in a two-vehicle accident in Fayetteville.


The North Carolina Highway Patrol reports that wrecks are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the state. Within the past four years, 682 teens have died in crashes investigated by state troopers.


Half of the fatal accidents take place on rural roads and speed is the leading cause of the accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.


In particular, Johnston County has the highest rate of teenage traffic fatalities. nearly 40 teens have been killed in accidents there within the past five years. There were nine last year and seven in 2008. So far in 2010, there have been three.


Over the next two weeks, state troopers will conduct extra patrols around Johnston County schools, as well as teach high school students about traffic safety as part of the "Live to Drive, Drive to Live" campaign.


Johnston County has a year-round defensive-driving program called "Alive at 25."

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