Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania — Ninth and tenth graders in Mr. Eric Hess’ Health Class at Jersey Shore Area High School said they would think twice about driving distracted, thanks to a safe driving lesson .
Representatives from PennDOT’s Driver Safety Task Force and the Geisinger Jersey Shore Trauma Program visited the classroom Thursday in coordination with Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
“Distracted driving has become a deadly epidemic on our roads,” said Kim Smith, PennDOT’s safety press officer. Vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death among young people aged 16 to 24.
To give students a realistic idea of how difficult driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol, or texting while driving, presenters set up three simulators consisting of a steering wheel, accelerator pedal and brake and a large screen.
The simulator adds challenges, including: a talking passenger, blurring the driver’s vision; tighten the steering wheel so that it is more difficult to turn; slower reaction times; and makes braking more difficult. It also adds obstacles like construction cones, pedestrians, and even a running dog on the road.
Ninth-grader Marshall Edmonds of Jersey Shore chose the impaired setting. “I missed a red light and got pulled over,” he said of his simulation attempt. “The brakes were heavy and the throttle was light.”
Edmonds’ father drives a truck for a living. “It makes me realize how important it is for everyone on the road not to drive while impaired,” he said.
Sara Snyder, 15, of Avis chose the distracted setting. “I was looking at the phone and I hit a car,” she said. Following the simulator crash, a police officer shows up at the window and the simulator user is taken from the scene to the police station, to face a district judge, then given an outline of the costs associated with a vehicle accident.
“Even a small hit is a lot of money,” Snyder said. She agreed the experience would make her stop and think before using her phone while driving.
According to Smith, distracted driving isn’t just about answering a phone call or texting. “Other risky actions include tuning your navigation, tuning the radio, eating or drinking or putting on makeup,” she said.
According to statistics from PennDOT, young drivers are the most likely to use their phones while driving. Since 2007, drivers aged 16 to 24 have been observed using portable electronic devices while driving at higher rates than older drivers.
PennDOT’s Pennsylvania Crash Facts & Statistics brochure publishes annual statistical analyzes of reportable motor vehicle crashes in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. According to statistics, in most age groups, male drivers are involved in more accidents than female drivers. Male drivers between the ages of 21 and 25 were involved in more crashes than drivers in any other age group (male or female).
Allowing students to drive distracted or impaired using the hands-on simulators, even before they became licensed drivers, had an impact on his students, Hess said.
School driving lessons have largely disappeared, but driving safely is an important life skill. “I hear kids say, ‘I’ll never do that!'” after the simulator lesson, he said.
In addition to the driving simulators, the safety working group makes a formal presentation on driver safety. Amy Swarthout, RN, BSN, stroke and trauma coordinator at Geisinger Jersey Shore, said she got involved with the program to give back.
As a nurse at the Geisinger Trauma Center, Swarthout sees what happens to victims of impaired or distracted driving. “I graduated 24 years ago at Jersey Shore,” she told students. “Now I do this to give back to the community,” she said.
The team also delivers the program to colleges, churches and civic groups, and even targets young children with the message of car and pedestrian safety.
At the end of the program, each student signs a pledge not to drive while impaired or distracted and receives a certificate.
Jersey Shore ninth grader Connor Fenstermacher missed a turn and drove into oncoming traffic as he tried to respond to a text message. “It’s really hard to watch the road while you’re texting,” he said. “I will definitely think twice about it when I start driving.”