LIMA — “This will affect them for the rest of their lives.”
That's how Bath Township Fire Chief Joseph Kitchen described the effect of a motor vehicle accident to seniors at Bath High School Friday. The fire department, in coordination with the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the school's Students Against Destructive Decisions chapter, staged a mock two-vehicle accident in front of the high school, showing in graphic visual terms the consequences of distracted driving.
“A lot of the kids have probably never seen an accident before,” said Lt. Brent Zemelka, of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. “To actually see what would possibly happen and how it would go down, it probably sits in their mind a little more that they need to be aware of what they're doing behind the wheel.”
Mary Davis, Bath's SADD faculty adviser, added, “I think it's impactful when you can see your friends and classmates in this situation. Everyone seemed to be very somber as they were listening.”
While many may see drunk driving as the greatest threat to teenagers on the road, this reenactment did not involve alcohol. Rather, one of the drivers was texting on her phone while driving.
“Distracted driving is becoming more and more prevalent,” Zemelka said. “We want to get the word out, telling them that the law states that anyone under the age of 18 is not allowed to be on a cell phone, playing with your GPS or even your iPod. When you start getting a lot of kids in the car, you get people wanting to show off a text or play with the radio. It's not the time to do it.”
Kenna Cheney, a senior at Bath and a member of SADD, portrayed the distracted driver at the accident. For her, being in the scene was still very emotional, despite it being a mock crash.
“I didn't think I was going to really cry, but once everything got started, it felt real,” she said, streaks of mascara still visible on her face.
During the crash, fellow Bath senior Bryon Jordan was “killed” after crashing through the windshield. In the scenario leading up to the crash, he was not wearing a seat belt.
“I've grown up around Bryon, and even though he's not one of my very close friends, it still hurt me to see him splattered across the windshield,” Cheney said.
Cheney noted this experience opened her eyes to just how easy it is to become distracted while driving.
“A lot of people think that if you're just looking at a text message, that's not texting and driving,” Cheney said. “But you're still taking your eyes off the road.”
For Cheney and all the other seniors at Bath, the message from this mock crash was painfully clear: avoid distracted driving at all costs.
“Once you get in the car, make sure everything is set and ready,” Zemelka said. “Put your phone away, and turn it off until you get to your destination. We want to make sure that everyone gets home safely.”