(Posted April 29, 2014)
By John Crutchfield, Messenger Correspondent
“The facts are: 3,300 people a year are killed on the roadways and another 440,000 are injured because of distracted driving.”
Madison County Sheriff Jim Sabin delivered these facts to high schools students taking part in a hands-on distracted driving workshop held April 18 at the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy’s tactical center in London.
Participants were students respected by their peers and known for their sense of responsibility. They were selected to serve as ambassadors. Their task: to attend the workshop and take the message of distracted driving back to their schools. Students from Jonathan Alder, London, Madison-Plains, Southeastern and West Jefferson high schools participated, as did students from Tolles Career and Technical Center.
“Distracted driving means using a phone, texting, eating, talking to friends riding in the car with you, combing your hair, putting on your make-up, even letting your mind wander,” Sabin told workshop attendees.
As for why texting while driving is especially dangerous, he explained, “You must physically work the phone. You must look at the phone and you must think about who it is and what you are going to say. You look at your phone for five seconds every time you text. In that time, you travel 100 yards. That’s one football field. A lot can happen in that time.”
Before wrapping up the lecture portion of the workshop, Sabin reminded students, “When you get in that car, you are taking the lives of your friends into your hands, and when you get in a car with someone, you are placing your life in their hands.”
Waiting outside for the students was a pair of police package Dodge Chargers, complete with lights and sirens. It was time for the students to learn by doing.
The second part of the program put students behind the wheel on OPOTA’s maneuverability course. They had to drive the course while attempting to send and receive text messages.
“The course has serpentine sections, switchbacks and sharp turns,” said Jeff Eggleston, OPOTA’s lead driving instructor. Police officers use the course to learn how to handle their vehicles.
The students drove the first lap without distractions to learn the course. Most made it through without knocking over any traffic cones.
On the second lap, students were asked to text a friend. Some friends texted back. In this exercise, some of the students managed the course without much trouble but others were not so successful as the cones tumbled. OPOTA driving instructors rode along to make sure the students stayed safe.
Reflecting on his time in the car, Madison-Plains junior Connor Cooley said, “It was a little harder than I thought it would be. The course is pretty tight. It has changed my perspective.”
Looking back at the course, West Jefferson junior Alyssa Jacobs said, “I do not text and drive. You are really taking chances if you do. The sheriff was right about the distractions being physical, visual and mental.”
Tolles junior Nick Shuler said, “I’ve heard stories. Students talk about people they’ve known injured in wrecks because they were texting.”
At the conclusion of the workshop, Sabin asked participants if they learned anything. “Their answer was a resounding, ‘Absolutely, yes!’ ” he said.
The workshop marked the first time the Sheriff’s Office offered a course that included the hands-on practical experience along with the lecture component. Sabin said he plans to hold the course again next year.
School superintendents and high school principals from the participating districts endorsed the workshop, as did the Attorney General’s Office.