MACEDONIA — A student climbed onto a State Farm Roadster Pedal car. He took a test drive around a path in the high school's gym, marked by cones. After he finished, he was handed a pair of impaired vision goggles and directed to drive the course again. This time, he struggled.
"You just killed a person," one student called out as he hit an orange traffic cone.
There was some laughter from the students, including the driver, but students said later the serious message hit home.
"I learned it's pretty hard to drive when you are impaired," said Senior Gary Winthorpe, 18. "I don't understand how some can do it, just to have a good time. You take lives into your hands. It was an eye-opening experience."
The students were participating in activities as a part of Safe Decisions week, which coincides with the high school's Homecoming week. The district partnered with State Farm Agent Jill Gaba and Ohio Sports Chiropractic and Rehab for the week-long series of programs at all the schools. This is the second consecutive year the district has participated in the program. Students in the younger grades participated in different activities from their older peers at the high school.
The impaired vision goggles, used in other activities such as a field sobriety test and a game where students tried to toss runner rats into a cauldron, were used to simulate someone's vision when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. But these are not the only distractions, as participating students would learn. There were a couple of activities where students were encouraged to use their cell phones to text and search for information while performing a driving simulation.
"It was hard," said Senior Amber Wilder, 17. "The texting was hard. You can't text and drive. Trying to pay attention to everything, it's hard."
Jill Gaba of State Farm Insurance said that she had collaborated with Sean Devins, the State Farm agent in Aurora, on ideas about bringing safe driving programs to the area schools. Last year, they had Safe Decisions week activities for the Nordonia Hills and the Aurora city schools.
"I have always had a passion for providing safety education in our community," Gaba said. "Over the past 20 years, I have sponsored child fingerprint ID kits, car seat inspections, Safety Towns, 911 safety, and fire prevention education. I meet with new teen drivers in my agency to discuss driver safety, but have always wanted to bring safe driving education to the schools. We had amazing support from the schools, students, and community. Many State Farm agents have heard about this program, and this year, 21 other school districts will be holding Safe Decisions Week this fall. As a mom on two teenage drivers, my passion for driver safety has definitely grown."
Gaba said that a Safe Decisions week also was introduced earlier this year at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy in Cuyahoga Falls.
According to information provided by State Farm Insurance:
• Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of death among teens in the U.S.
• In the United States, the fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16 -19 year-olds is nearly 3 times the rate for drivers ages 20 and over.
• The crash fatality rate (crash fatalities/100,000 population) is highest for 16- to 17-year-olds within the first six months after getting their license – and remains high through age 24.
• In 2016, 55 percent of the deaths of teenage passengers in passenger vehicles occurred in vehicles driven by another teenager.
Bill Dodge, the team leader for the PEERS Foundation, based in Grand Rapids Michigan, said that 10 people a day die from the consequences of distracted driving. PEERS had brought an ARDDES Augmented Reality simulator presentation, featuring biometrics and eye tracking software using a Chevrolet Spark. Students climbed behind the wheel, put on a helmet and attempted to drive a virtual course while attempting to use their cell phone.
"If it were a disease, it would be an epidemic," Dodge said.
However, there is some good news, he added.
"We've actually seen a decrease," Dodge said. "It used to be 11 deaths a day. What we are doing is having an impact."
Dodge said his team has traveled to numerous states in the nation with this distracted driving program, including Florida, Texas, Colorado, Illinois and Indiana.
The week’s activities will culminate Friday with a free pregame tailgate party and a community Safe Decisions Resource Fair at 5 p.m. The Nordonia Knights are encouraged to wear black-out gear to the Homecoming Game against Stow-Munroe Falls Bulldogs, which starts at 7 p.m.
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, email@example.com, or @AprilKHelms_RPC