CUYAHOGA FALLS — It's not every day you hear an adult encourage a teen to text and drive. In fact, it is safe to say that this is a rare occurrence.
But at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy on Oct. 1, Andy Brown of Drive Team could be heard encouraging teens in the parking lot to use their cell phones while they drove around the parking lot. "Keep texting!" he'd occasionally call out.
Before any parents become alarmed, the teens were closely supervised while they were driving golf carts around cones in the parking lot, and Brown's purpose was to teach the students how easy it was to hit something while distracted.
The activities were part of a series of activities under Safe Decisions, which coincided with CVCA's Homecoming week. Jill Gaba, who helps coordinate Safe Decisions Week with State Farm Insurance, said this is the first year the program has been at CVCA. Safe Decisions started last year at the Nordonia Hills and Aurora school districts.
Gaba shared the following teen driving statistics:
• 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- to 19-year-olds is nearly three times the rate for drivers ages 20 and over.
• The crash fatality rate (crash fatalities/100,000 population) is highest for 16- and 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.
The texting and driving station wasn't the only activity in which the teens could participate. There also was a skid golf cart. Perry Dangerfield, also from Drive Team, said these carts were designed to simulate what it would be like to drive a vehicle that had, for example, skidded on ice.
Dangerfield himself was teaching teens about visibility from a large vehicle such as a semi. One by one, teens were invited into the semi to see how many of the 15 cones set up around the rig they could see through the windows and in the mirrors. This not only highlights what a truck driver can see, but where the blindspots are, Dangerfield said. This aims to help teen drivers how the safely navigate the roads when a semi is nearby.
Inside the school's library, students had a chance to wear goggles that simulated visual impairment while they attempted to toss rubber rats in a cauldron. Another activity was a driving simulation using virtual reality.
"I was driving using a virtual reality simulator," said Luke Slabaugh, a 14-year-old freshman from Stow. "I did pretty good, I got an 85, and I didn't hit any cones."
The biggest takeaway from the day's activities? "Don't use your phone while driving," Slabaugh said.
Students also could see how their chances of getting into a vehicular accident increased or decreased depending on factors such as the number of passengers in a car and whether they were driving in the daytime or at night.
"I liked the drunk goggles," said Adam Dietrich, 17, a senior from Hudson. "It showed me what an impaired situation is like. It's not smart, you can seriously hurt others or yourself."
Ben Shetler, a 17-year-old senior from Twinsburg, said that he liked the skid cart.
"They don't really teach you that in your driver's ed classes, what to do should you hit a skid," Shetler said. "My parents taught me how, but a lot of people I know weren't taught how to get out of a skid."
Heidi Deane, the Ohio education and outreach coordinator, said that she hoped that both adults and teens would come away with important messages from the week. She was invited to address the students Oct. 2.
"I hope the adults know that they are the No. 1 influencers in our teen drivers," Deane said. "They will notice what you do. I hope the teens, I want so many things, but I hope they understand the crash risks for them, especially the first few years."
Deane said every person in a car — the passengers as well as the driver — have a job.
"That job is to make sure everyone is wearing a seat belt," Deane said. "For passengers, it's not being a distracting passenger. Drivers need to be 100 percent focused on the road. Everyone needs to be prepared to speak up."
There were also activities Sept. 30 and Oct. 2, leading to the Homecoming festivities scheduled for Oct. 4.
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @AprilKHelms_RPC