Duluth students see effects of distracted drivingAs Denfeld High School students filed in and out of the school over lunch hour Tuesday, most couldn’t resist stopping to take a look at an uncomfortable sight in front of the building.
As Denfeld High School students filed in and out of the school over lunch hour Tuesday, most couldn’t resist stopping to take a look at an uncomfortable sight in front of the building.
Displayed was the wreckage of a car that crashed as the result of texting and driving. The vehicle’s driver, a 16-year-old Pine City girl, was killed in the accident.
The car’s windshield is smashed and the front bumper is hanging on by a thread. The driver’s side mirror is missing and one of the rear tires sits sideways. The roof is partially caved in and the car’s entire body is badly dented.
“I think it’s really stupid to text and drive,” said Jacob Peterson, a ninth-grader who has a driver’s permit. “You could get yourself killed.”
Local law enforcement agencies, including the Duluth Police Department and the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office, teamed up to bring the car to Denfeld Tuesday. It has also been on display at Proctor, Marshall, East and Floodwood high schools and the University of Minnesota Duluth over the past two weeks.
The car, a 1991 Chrysler 300, was donated to the law enforcement agencies by the family of the deceased girl, Haylie Samuelson, so that it could serve as a grim illustration of the dangers of distracted driving.
Samuelson went straight, when the road curved, while texting and driving on a county highway on March 23, 2012. The car went off the road and rolled several times. Samuelson, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was ejected from the car and died on the scene. Her passenger, an 18-year-old female, was wearing a seatbelt and survived.
“With prom season coming up and school getting out soon, we wanted to bring awareness to the high schools,” said Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Jason Hanson. “It’s interesting because it used to be alcohol that we were warning about. Now it’s distracted driving that’s the big issue.”
Distracted driving is considered any activity that diverts the driver’s attention away from the road, including texting, talking on the phone or to passengers, eating, reading maps and adjusting the radio or GPS
More than 3,000 people are killed in distracted driving crashes in the U.S. every year and nearly one in five crashes that result in injuries involves distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
More than two-thirds of Americans aged 18-64 admit to at least occasionally talking on a cell phone while driving, and approximately one-third say they have read or sent text messages or emails, according to the national statistics.
Denfeld senior Aaron Lombardi looked at the wrecked car on his lunch break. He doesn’t drive yet, but he said he won’t be texting when he gets his license.
“My best friend crashed into a ditch (while texting),” he said. “She’s lucky to be alive.”
As Denfeld students examined the demolished car, they also headed inside to the commons area, where various distracted driving booths were set up.
A driving simulator allowed students to take the wheel in a video game while being prompted to read and respond to text messages. No one seemed to have much success at the game. As the students swerved off the road, sideswiped cars and hit deer, the game displayed costs for tickets, repair work and rising insurance premiums.
“I thought it was going pretty good when I tried it, and then I hit a deer,” sophomore Breanna Nelson said after trying the simulator. “The phone definitely did not make it any easier. I wasn’t even texting. I was just glancing at it.”
Other booths inside the school allowed students to try alcohol goggles and test the effects of a traumatic brain injury that could result from a car crash.
While many students said they don’t text and drive, some said they’ve been in a car as a passenger when a friend or parent was texting.
“I say, ‘Come on man, put your phone away or turn it off until we stop,’” said junior Toby Cook. “Pull into a parking lot to finish your message. Stopping at a stop sign doesn’t count.”
Junior Cassidy Heimbach said she has also been a passenger in a car with a distracted driver.
“I think they’re kinda stupid for doing it,” she said. “You could kill both of us.”