Life lesson: Leland students hear program on distracted driving

LELAND – Although only a freshman in high school and too young to drive, Brianna Pemberton of Leland knows the dangers of texting while driving. Her aunt recently was in a car crash, hit by a driver that was texting behind the wheel.

“I saw pictures of my aunt’s crash, and it was horrible,” Pemberton said. “I can’t imagine that happening to anyone else. People probably just assume they’re going to live forever. They take life for granted. Life is short. You have one life and you’re not going to get it back. Why would you want to pick up your phone, text and risk that?”

To stress the dangers of texting while driving and other forms of distracted driving, the International Save a Life Tour came to Leland High School on May 3.

The tour is a safe-driving awareness program that travels to all 50 states and more than 30 countries, sharing the effects of impaired and distracted driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving as anything that takes attention away from the task of safe driving: talking or texting on the phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in the vehicle or fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation systems.

The Safe a Life Tour’s program includes a video telling the personal stories of lives affected by distracted driving and an opportunity to experience the dangers of texting while driving with simulators.

After attending the presentation in the morning, classes of students took turns with the distracted driving simulators. The public could stop by the school to try the simulators in the afternoon.

Bringing the tour to Leland cost $3,075, of which $2,500 was paid for by Country Financial representative Ryan Skinner.

Leland School Principal Chris Bickel said the presentation came at a perfect time, the week before prom.

“We can’t get this message out enough,” Bickel said. “Every time you get behind the wheel is a risk. It’s important that the students make good decisions and that we bring awareness to distracted driving. If even one of our students decides they won’t pick up their phone while driving, mission complete.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each day in the United States, approximately nine people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver. Drivers younger than age 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.

The CDC’s national Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System found that in 2015, 42 percent of high school students who drove in the past 30 days reported sending a text or an email while driving.

“It’s important to talk to young drivers because they are building driving habits for the rest of their lives,” tour manager Alex Yeomans said. “By offering distracted driving simulators that allow you to text while driving in a virtual world, you can see the dangers of texting while driving firsthand. Car accidents are the top reason for death before age 35 and one of the top five reasons your entire life.”

The day before the presentation, Leland High School junior Dalton White was almost in an accident while driving to his class at Indian Valley Vocational Center.

“The lady in the other lane was looking down and didn’t stop,” White said. “You could tell that she was texting. I had to either blare my horn or get hit. After that, the entire ride over there I was angry. It’s easy to get distracted, but my advice is not to call or text when driving.”

Senior Willow House said the presentation’s video was emotional and difficult to watch.

“I already don’t text while driving, but the video stressed how serious of an issue it is,” House said. “I see people on Snapchat recording their driving. I don’t understand it. A text isn’t more important that someone’s life. Pay attention to the road and people around you and put your phone down.”

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