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‘Don’t Talk to Me, I’m Driving’

Students Learn Distracted-Driving Hazards


Garrett Wolcott gripped the steering wheel and stepped on the brake as soon as he noticed the traffic light had turned red. Beside him, Dalilah Herrera kept an eye out for the next turn while Hyethaniel Wagenborg and Abby O’Brien sang to the radio, looked at selfies on Abby’s phone and pestered Garrett from the backseat.

Thank goodness they weren’t in a real car. The Mill Creek Middle School sixth-graders, along with others in Donita Coughlin’s Explore Life Sciences class, were taking part in simulations of common distractions while driving, riding and walking.

From left, pediatric neurosurgery physician assistant Chelsea Borta, pediatric neurosurgeon Casey Madura and injury prevention specialist Kim Hernden

The simulations made up one of five sessions held over a two-week period at the school. They included fire safety at home, brain function and injuries — featuring real human brains — and bicycle safety and helmet use.

The sessions were led by staff members of Helen Devos Children’s Hospital who, sponsored by Meijer, host “ThinkFirst” injury prevention community education. The goal is to prevent injuries by empowering students to change risky behaviors. said Kim Hernden, injury prevention specialist.

“It’s your responsibility as a driver to say ‘Don’t talk to me; I’m driving,'” Hernden told students. “And if you’re a passenger, it’s your responsibility to not distract the driver. That is your job when you are in someone else’s car.”

The Helen DeVos group also has presented at East Rockford Middle School and is looking to expand to other districts, Hernden said.

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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