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The Price of Distracted Driving

Student drivers had to react quickly while using a distracted-driving simulator. Cars pulled out in front of them. Children kicked balls into the road. Trucks blew through red lights.

“I ran into someone because they pulled out in front of me,” said freshman Cassie Stersic, of the virtual experience. It got her thinking about things to keep in mind when she gets her driver’s license. “You need to take precautions and not have distractions in the car, like cell phones.”

Common Driving Distractions

  • Texting
  • Using a cell phone or smartphone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player

That’s the message seniors Ashley James and Lara Richardson wanted their peers to walk away with, and it was their reason for organizing a week dedicated to awareness of distracted-driving dangers.

Students in teacher Maggie Reeder’s business and marketing class, including Ashley and Lara, helped run the simulator station as part of a marketing plan titled “Take Action, Minimize Distraction.” Students tested their driving skills on the simulator during lunch, and community members had the chance to try it at a district basketball game.

The class received a $1,000 grant to take part in the state’s Strive for a Safer Drive teen-driving initiative. S4SD is a public-private partnership between AAA Michigan, Ford Driving Skills for Life and the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning that seeks to reduce traffic crashes, the leading cause of death for teens.

Freshman Cassie Stersic tests her driving skills on the distracted-driving simulator
Freshman Cassie Stersic tests her driving skills on the distracted-driving simulator

In 2014, there were 40,865 crashes in Michigan among drivers age 15-19. Those crashes resulted in 69 fatalities and 479 serious injuries, according to the State of Michigan. And national statistics from the U.S government web site, Distraction.gov., indicate that 10 percent of drivers of all ages under 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash.

That age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.

“The biggest message for me is just to have people be more aware of what they’re doing when they are driving,” Ashley said.

Lara said a friend was involved in a car crash three years ago because another driver was distracted, and still suffers from injuries. Several Byron Center students have been involved in accidents.

A Lesson in Marketing, Too

Students were tasked with creating a marketing campaign. They worked in five groups to create plans and chose one to implement, and surveyed peers before and after the week on their knowledge and attitudes. They researched statistics, and created T-shirts, banners and signs. Students were encouraged to sign pledges to drive safe.

“As far as marketing goes, they are seeing all the aspects,” Reeder said.

Seniors Ashley James and Lara Richardson helped organize the campaign
Seniors Ashley James and Lara Richardson helped organize the campaign

Kent County Sheriff Department Deputy Andy Jonkman, the school’s resource officer, helped run the simulator. He said he has seen many accidents happen as a result of texting or talking on the phone.

“This gives them an awareness of the different situations they may come into when they are driving on the road, and the unexpected ones they typically aren’t aware of,” he said, noting that he also wants students to think about consequences.

“A seemingly simple thing like answering your phone, texting or talking on the phone can have serious consequences for you or for somebody else.”


Strive for a Safer Drive

Ford Driving Skills for Life

Distracted Driving Statistics

10 Statistics that Capture the Dangers of Texting Driving

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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