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Students filed into a classroom last Thursday at Chiefland High School, well aware that they would see some solemn examples of the terrible things that can happen behind the wheel of a vehicle.
About 15 participants, primarily from Chiefland and a few from Dixie County, were attending a session of the Levy County Teen Driver Improvement Program. The free course shows young drivers the consequences of operating a car while impaired or distracted.
“What you’re going to see is reality,” Deputy Grant Sandlin told the kids as the lights dimmed in the classroom. “It’s about choices and decisions. That’s what driving is.”
The images weren’t meant to shock, and they weren’t overly gruesome. They only served as a realistic reminder to the students of what can happen when they make the wrong choices before driving.
The class was full of statistics, showing the effects of unsafe driving in the area. In 2005, Levy County ranked second in the state for teen-involved crashes for an area with a population of 50,000 or less. That year alone, there 100 crashes involving 15 to 19 year olds, two fatalities and 126 injuries.
The Driver Improvement Program started soon after, as a program funded by a highway safety grant through the Florida Department of Transportation, and Levy dropped to fifth on the list in 2006. There were 70 crashes involving 15 to 19 year olds and 71 injuries that year, but three fatalities. But the numbers fell, something which Sandlin partially attributed to the success of the program.
But nationally, 68,000 teens died from crashes during the last decade, making it the leading cause of death among teenagers.
“That’s almost 70,000 people that we won’t ever know what they could have been in life,” Sandlin said.
Following the indoor session, students were given the chance to ride through a contained course in the school parking lot. First, they drove through the course free of distractions. Then, they were given a cell phone, and told to enter numbers as they were driving. Finally, they drove through the course wearing a pair of goggles that simulated being over the legal drinking limit. With each run, the driver was less and less able to cleanly clear the course.
During the class, Sandlin went over the types of distractive, aggressive and impaired driving that can kill or debilitate so many young people.
Numbers don’t always tell the story, however. There were videos showing the effects of impaired and distracted driving.
The mood in the room tensed as the students saw raw footage from crash scenes. Sandlin said that he has been working these scenes for a while, and it never loses its impact.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and it still affects you,” he said. “We get tired of it. Really tired of it. And it’s the worst when it’s people you know.”