Whiz kids vie in auto repair competitions

High school students throughout the region competed in an automotive contest this spring where the goal wasn’t speed behind the wheel but quickness under the hood with wrenches and diagnostic tools.

In the annual Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition, the best high school automotive technicians went head-to-head in the statewide finals of the challenge to be named top technicians in their state and earn a chance to be named best in the country. Held in all 50 states with more than $8 million in scholarships at stake, the hands-on contest encourages students to pursue careers in the automotive field.

In each state in April and May, contests were held in which two-student teams raced to repair deliberately bugged Ford cars. The 10 faults in the vehicle, in addition to not being able to start, included ignition problems and problems affecting the performance of the engine. Students had to find and repair all of the faults to win, and scores were based on time and accuracy.

In Louisiana, Jena High School students Thomas Meyers and Daniel Kangas-Davis were named the top technicians in the state by winning the contest in Alexandria. Their instructor is Ray Hodges.

The top team in Mississippi was composed of Hancock County Vo Tech Center students Richard Alle and Cody Necaise. The contest was held in Jackson, and their instructor is Tony Adams.

In Arkansas, Jonathan Bean and Levi McEntire of Waldron High School were named state champs at the contest, held at the Mark Martin Museum in Batesville. Their instructor is Larry Brigance. After the contest, the students got a congratulatory call from Martin, who was at the Richmond International Raceway preparing for the Jim Stewart 400.

To qualify for the hands-on contest, the students had to take written exams. By winning the contest in their states, each student earned his or her choice of scholarships from a number of automotive technical institutes. Also, the winners received an expenses-paid trip to Dearborn, Mich., to represent their states in the national championship, which was held in June after press deadline for this issue.

Helmet and teen licensing laws hit road block in Arkansas

Despite studies showing tougher motorcycle helmet and teen driver licensing laws would save lives and prevent injuries, Arkansas lawmakers did not approve bills this session that would have made the state’s roads safer.

While Arkansas has a graduated driver licensing (GDL) law, the teen driver licensing bill would have imposed more restrictions on novice drivers in an attempt to reduce teen fatalities. The added restrictions, which are in place in many other states, were proposed to help teens gain more experience behind the wheel under less risky circumstances.

Arkansas’s existing system has three levels: a learner’s license available at age 14; an intermediate license available at age 16; and a regular license available at age 18. In the intermediate stage, there are few restrictions on drivers.

Under the bill introduced by Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, D-Crossett, teen drivers age 14 to 18 would have been prohibited from carrying more than one juvenile passenger unless accompanied by an adult; multiple teen passengers would have been allowed if they were siblings of the driver. Also, it would have banned intermediate license holders from using a cell phone or texting device behind the wheel and from driving from 11 p.m.–6 a.m. except for emergencies, work and school events.

“I saw there was a real need to strengthen the law and make it more effective,” Jeffress said. “As a grandfather, I could not imagine the pain and suffering a family has to endure when a child is killed in an automobile accident.”

While the Senate approved the bill as did the House Transportation Committee, it was voted down in the House. Jeffress said he would introduce a similar bill in the next session and work to educate the bill’s opponents, who argued the law would be a hardship for students in rural areas.

Opponents of the motorcycle helmet bill, which would have required all motorcycle riders to wear helmets, argued that wearing a helmet should be someone’s freedom of choice. Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, introduced the bill this year to reduce injuries and fatalities among motorcycle riders, but it stalled in the Transportation, Technology and Legislative Affairs Committee.

Under the existing law, motorcycle riders who are under the age of 21 must wear a helmet. The state once required all those on motorcycles to wear helmets, but legislators repealed the law in 1997 and removed the requirement for those 21 and older.

A federal study found that motorcycle fatalities rose 21 percent in the first year following the repeal. Also, the percentage of head injuries among injured motorcyclists rose from 18.5 percent before the repeal to 31.6 after the repeal.

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