MARION – Mock crashes in the spring are as much the norm for high schools as their proms and graduations.
Once a message not to drink and drive, they are now used as a tool against distracted driving as well.
The Marion post of the Ohio Highway Patrol staged a mock crash attended by students from Elgin, Marion Catholic, Pleasant and Ridgedale high schools Monday morning at the Marion County Fairgrounds. Firefighters from the Marion City and Marion Township fire departments worked together to free “victims” from vehicles using the Jaws of Life and saws.
Students portrayed the victims. Ridgedale’s Samantha Burns was the fatality, on the ground covered in a white sheet. Highway patrol trooper Ben Addy gave the safe-driving speech, walking through the grandstand and talking to students with the crash scene in the background.
He shared some stories, including one in which two family members died in a crash caused by a distracted driver trying to pass a semi trailer.
“That vehicle is a missile,” Addy said, recalling something a past post commander used to say about the dangers of unsafe driving. “We are hoping you guys will listen to us.”
Distracted driving has become part of the talk of law enforcement as they educate teens about the consequences of unsafe driving.
Lt. Lance Shearer, commander of the patrol’s Marion post, said dangers include texting and driving as well as changing the radio or eating while driving. He said distracted driving is a huge issue of concern when it comes to causes of avoidable crashes.
“You know kids are doing it,” he said.
A Pew Internet and American Life survey completed in 2009 found that 34 percent of 16- and 17-year-old teen texter respondents said they had texted while driving. The report estimated that about 26 percent of all American teens ages 16 to 17 text while driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 16 percent of fatal crashes and 20 percent of injury crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving. Sixteen percent of all drivers younger than 20 involved in fatal crashes were reportedly distracted while driving.
As far as dangers, a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study stated that sending or receiving a text takes the driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that would be the same as driving the length of a football field blind.
The issue has been discussed in the Legislature. The Ohio Senate recently passed a bill that would ban texting while driving. The bill, which must be approved by the Ohio House, would make texting and driving a primary offense for teens younger than 18.
That means law enforcement could pull teens over for the offense without spotting any other offenses and teens could face a 60-day license suspension for a first offense.
Ridgedale student Hannah Loper said she volunteered to portray a crash victim because it sounded like fun and teaches teens not to text and drive. She and other students agreed that it is a problem.
While talking about distracted driving, troopers also lectured against the dangers of drinking and driving. Addy told students not to drink considering they are underage, but added that if they do, to only do so in moderation and not drive for any reason.
He talked about the scenes that first responders come across as he referred to an area of broken glass on a van’s windshield. That area, he said, is commonly caused by the head of a driver not wearing a seat belt.
“A lot of times you will find hair, skin, blood right in the windshield,” he said.
Student volunteers described their experience as interesting but a bit uncomfortable.
“I think the Jaws of Life is pretty scary,” said Loper, who portrayed the driver of a car involved in the crash. She sat with a sheet over her as firefighters cut off and removed the car’s top.
“It was a new experience but scary at the same time,” she said. “The saw is by your head.”
Burns spent the entire time lying on the ground as if she was dead. A firefighter laid a sheet over her and continued to the car as he and others worked to free victims.
Addy explained that first responders focus on the living because that’s who they can still help.
“I thought it was pretty scary,” Burns said. “I was supposed to be dead. They said, ‘She’s dead. Don’t worry about her.'”
Reporter Kurt Moore: 740-375-5151, kdmoore@ marionstar.com or on Twitter @StarKurtMoore
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