Hard-Hitting Program Teaches Students Consequences of Distracted Driving
The video showed a re-creation of a distracted-driving incident, including police response, emergency-room scenes, family responses, and the screeching brakes, crying, screaming, sirens, flashing lights, blood, and injuries that accompany car crashes. On its website, www.KramerIntl.com, Kramer International claims: “This is an extreme program that viewers will remember for the rest of their lives.” And while I can’t speak for anyone else, I know I certainly will.
The personal stories in the video were powerful. One story told of a young man who, while texting and driving, struck an Amish family in their horse-drawn wagon, killing the 3-, 5- and 17-year-old children and the horse. As he recalled what had happened, he was obviously still shocked and affected by it, even years later. While he talked about the impending birth of his first child, it was clear that the shadow of that tragedy will hover over him for the rest of his life. His voice cracked when he read a letter that he’d received from the Amish father actually forgiving him for what he had done.
Driving home the point that, although not all victims die all are adversely affected, was the New Hampshire woman who was walking her dog one night and was struck by a young woman; she and the dog were both thrown several yards. The dog was found dead the next day; the woman had many broken bones and brain swelling. She underwent several surgeries and had all of the broken bones set, but was forever impaired by damage to her brain. A once-vibrant woman, employed at a job wherein she travelled all over the world, she was now confined to wander around in her yard, speech impaired, unable to focus, unable to work—her life forever changed. And to top it all off, she had lost her dog—her best friend. (The insurance company of the young woman who hit her paid out $50,000; her medical bills reached $1 million. At her attorney’s advice, the young woman declined to appear in the video.)
There were other stories of loss: one young man was not involved in the accident, but he caused a car and a truck to crash. As a result, two men lost their lives. “It started out like any other day. I was driving to work, texting with my wife, I don’t even remember what about—nothing important.” It didn’t end like any other day. Relatives of the two dead men spoke. The daughter of one of the men had told the young man at his trial that she was to be married and his texting had robbed her of the chance to have her father walk her down the aisle. She said she still suffered from nightmares.
It was apparent that the other victim’s father, a blacksmith, was still struggling to understand. “All my problems can be solved with more heat and a bigger hammer. I don’t have much use for technology; I don’t even own a cell phone.”
The young man summed it up very succinctly: “By my actions that morning, I decided that my texting and driving was more important to me than those two men were to their families. How selfish of me.” Since his release from prison, he has dedicated his life to spreading awareness of the danger of texting and driving by telling his own story.
The students applauded at the end of the film. The speaker then talked about distracted driving not being just about texting. There are many things competing for a driver’s attention: fiddling with the radio, headlights, windshield wipers, etc.; drinking a beverage; talking on a cell phone; putting on makeup; picking up something that has dropped...
“Driving itself is a distraction, but it’s a necessary distraction—think of everything that you have to focus on—your speed, traffic signs and signals, etc.” He explained that an accident caused by a necessary distraction is called exactly that—an accident. An accident caused by an unnecessary distraction such as those listed above is called a crash.
He relayed facts, some of which you may already be familiar with. “It takes approximately 4.6 seconds to look at an average text message; if you’re traveling at 55 mph, during that time you can travel 100 yards—the entire length of a football field. If you are involved in a car accident that the other party caused, if you were found to be texting or drinking an alcoholic beverage, you will be found at fault, even though you didn’t cause the accident to happen.”
Using the “Scared Straight” approach, he said to the kids, “Texting equals prison time; think about who you may be sharing a cell with. If it’s that important, pull over to the side of the road and call the person.”
Two teachers volunteered to use the Save a Life Distracted Driving simulators on the stage. The simulator was designed for the sole purpose of illustrating how distraction affects reaction times. According to Kramer International, “One becomes singularly focused when engaged in other activities besides driving. A split-second delay in the simulator’s responsiveness will cause participants to demonstrate tendencies similar to those of a distracted driver.” The teachers did not do well.
The simulators were at the school for the day; teachers could bring their classes, or students who had a study period could go to the auditorium, but they had to sign a pledge card not to text and drive in order to try the simulator. One student who did fairly well later admitted that she wasn’t actually reading or responding to the text messages on the cell phone (part of the simulator); she was just typing random letters—and she still crashed.
I asked several students for their reactions as they were filing out of the auditorium. “It’ll definitely make me think twice,” said one student. Another, who was particular affected by the story in the video of the little boy who was walking along, holding his sister’s hand, when she was struck, her hand pulled right out of his, and killed, said, “It was really sad. When someone texts me, I just pull over and call them back.” Yet another student said she would be “too scared” to text and drive. The last student I talked to said she would never text and drive. She said (referring to the tragic stories), “That could happen to me, especially today—kids are glued to their cell phones.” (continued below)
Voluntarily signing the “Save a Life Tour” 2014 pledge banner that will hang in the school are (L-R) Erica McColgan, Haley Pelletier and Kirsten Pendola.
According to their website, Kramer International’s objective is to use every method at its disposal to bring home the reality of the dangerous practice of distracted driving because it has eclipsed drunk driving as the number-one safety concern of the driving public. “We are committed to educating all individuals that attend this program about the dangers of this serious life-threatening practice, through the use of cutting-edge technology, video display, and live personal presentation and interaction.” They routinely take this and their Alcohol Awareness Program to high schools, colleges and military bases.
After the program, I spoke with School Resource Officer Len Gosselin, who supplied additional information from the law-enforcement side. “These kids all have junior operator’s licenses (JOLs). They need to understand the consequences. It’s not just the Registry’s penalties (see below). There could be multiple charges, including criminal charges, if there’s a fatality. Now you’re talking about jail time.”
“So far, Bellingham has been lucky. We haven’t had any fatalities caused by texting and driving, and we’d like to keep it that way,” Gosselin concluded.