Fitch juniors and seniors were involved in a series of auto accident that sent many to a hospital and some before a judge. It was part of a driving safety program that featured an Ohio Department of Transportation driving simulator presented to students on Friday, March 9.
The simulator is the only one of its kind in Ohio and ODOT has been scheduling it during the school year at many of Ohio's larger school districts like Austintown.
"We'll also bring it to any school that requests it," said ODOT District 4 representative Brent Kovacs.
Fitch junior Naudya Bankston tries her hand at cornhole, but with a twist. She attempted to get the bean bag on the board, but went far to the left while wearing glasses that simulated a drunk over the legal limit.
The simulator has two setting. It can simulate a drunk driver, or take a student through a road course while he texts and drives. Not many students could get through either scenario without crashing.
"In the drunk driver scenario, technology makes reaction slower and has students over-correcting," Kovacs said. "At the end, the student goes through a sobriety test, can go to the hospital and appears before a judge for sentencing on DUI charges."
Fitch senior Brandon Wilks took the DUI scenario. He only lasted 15 seconds when he suffered a violent crash. After the crash, the screen went to the emergency room for medical treatment, followed by an appearance in court where a judge sentenced him.
"It was interesting to see the punishment you get for driving drunk," he said.
Of course it was interesting to Wilks as he will be attending Youngstown State University this fall in the criminal justice field. He said he hopes to enter law enforcement and would like to someday be a judge.
On the texting side, a student had to attempt to drive while using a mouse to text on a square in the corner of the screen. While it doesn't sound that hard, most of the students ended up crashing or running red lights. It was an eye-opener for many.
To go along with the scenario, Highway Patrol troopers and a member of the National Safety Council were on hand to answer questions the students might have. Larry Kingston, executive director for the National Safety Council, said Pennsylvania has just pasted a no texting while driving law. He said it is on the table in Ohio.
"I just gave testimony in Columbus," he said. "An Ohio bill banning texting has already passed the House and is presently stalled in the Senate. We want to see something done because statistics show you are four times more likely to be involved in a crash while using a hands free cell phone device and 23 times more likely while texting. According to our research, 6,000 people die each year from distracted drivers."
Ohio Highway Patrol Trooper Eric Brown said the Pennsylvania law just enacted makes texting a primary violation. He said a primary violation means a driver can be pulled over and cited for texting. He said while an Ohio law is still awaiting passage, there are some cities in the Buckeye State who already have those ordinances on the books.
Besides the driving simulator, students also got to feel what it is like to be drunk. Susan Viars from Mahoning County Safe Communities set up a cornhole game. The only stipulation is that the students had to wear goggles that simulated a person who was over the legal limit for alcohol.
Fitch junior Naudya Bankston gave it a shot and failed to even come close to the board, let alone hit the hole.
"I don't drink," she said. "I don't understand why I couldn't hit it."
Afterwards it was explained to the students that the glasses are geared to show what it is like when drunk. All the students in the morning sessions were tossing the bean bag way to the left.
The program seemed to be a hit to guidance department head Mary Beth McGlynn. She said Fitch has a lot of students and while getting them all to participate would be difficult, she planned to get as many juniors and seniors through it as possible. She said most of them are driving and they need to know the consequences of drinking and texting while driving.