Kids, cars and cautionLearning to drive, and going to prom and graduation are rites of passage for many teenagers. They can be the stuff of great high school memories, but every year around this time, the combination of motor vehicles, youthful exuberance and flawed judgment take a tragic toll on young lives—claiming some, injuring others.
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
Learning to drive, and going to prom and graduation are rites of passage for many teenagers. They can be the stuff of great high school memories, but every year around this time, the combination of motor vehicles, youthful exuberance and flawed judgment take a tragic toll on young lives—claiming some, injuring others.
Thursday, William Kelley High School was the site of a display and a presentation intended to send an important message to kids about what can happen when a momentary lapse of judgment overtakes common sense.
“We do this every couple of years,” said Industrial Technology teacher, Chris Belanger, “one year in Silver Bay and one in Two Harbors. We do it in the spring right around prom time and graduation. It’s for awareness.”
Two cars, both badly damaged were hauled onto school grounds. Students had a chance to take an up-close look at the wrecked vehicles, followed by an educational presentation. Fire departments from Finland and Silver Bay were also on hand.
“We had a speaker to talk about drinking and driving,” said Belanger, adding that this year there was an additional focus to the days’ events — distracted driving, especially texting and talking on cell phones.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, distracted driving is the leading factor in crashes throughout the state. It is responsible for 8,000 injuries and 70 deaths each year on Minnesota roadways.
“It’s a myth that we can multi-task behind the wheel, when the reality is (that) distractions are dangers piled atop the important task of driving,” said Donna Berger, director of the DPS office of Traffic Safety. “It’s up to every driver to eliminate these unnecessary distractions.”
To reinforce this message, DPS recently stepped up enforcement of Minnesota’s no texting law. The law, originally passed in August 2008, prohibits drivers from reading, composing or sending electronic messages or accessing the Web while in motion or in traffic, even if their vehicle is stopped at a sign or signal. Drivers under 18 are not allowed to use a cell phone at any time while behind the wheel. Enforcement efforts have netted an increasing number of drivers each year – 389 in 2009 to a whopping 1,728 in 2012.
Distracted driving is not limited to cell phone use. Drivers’ attention can be diverted by numerous other activities and situations. To minimize distractions, the DPS offers the following tips:
• Turn off cell phones and place them out of reach or ask a passenger to field calls and texts.
• Adjust heat, air-conditioning, radio and mirrors before getting on the road.
• Ask a passenger to read maps and directions. Solo drivers should exit the roadway to read a map. Frequent travelers may wish to purchase a GPS.
• Try to avoid eating –especially messy or hot foods. Make sure beverages are secured.
• Do not under-estimate how distracting it can be to tend to children or pets while driving.
• As a passenger, speak up if a driver is texting, calling or otherwise distracted. Your safety and that of others on the road is at stake.
• Don’t make calls to, or receive calls from someone who is driving.
After seeing the wrecked cars and hearing the cautionary tales, how did kids respond? It varied, says Belanger, but overall it’s worth the effort if it keeps kids thinking about their safety.
“The kids have been pretty open to it,” he said, “there have been some kids who’ve taken it harder than others, because of their own experiences; maybe it brings back memories. Some kids take it as information, but with this situation there are definitely some who take it to heart.”