Staying safe behind the wheel

Staying safe behind the wheel
A group of Liberty High School students create an event to inform the community on the dangers of distracted driving

By Brett Auten

A group of Liberty High School students quickly put together a community assembly where the focus was on the perils of distracted driving.

The evening, tabbed “Take Action Eliminate Distraction” was the result of an assignment handed out in Molly Kleiber’s driver’s education course at Liberty High, located in Lake St. Louis. 

Marissa Pukala, a junior, was one of five members of the class to go above and beyond the class assignment of how you inform the community on the dangers of distracted driving. Pukala teamed with sophomore Nicole Krohn, senior Brianna Hill, junior Mallie Pattillo and sophomore Hallie Anderson to bring the event together. 

“We said we would put on an assembly not knowing how to exactly put one on,” Pukala said. “So we put 110-percent of our effort into this.”

The team had a time crunch of two-and-a-half weeks and an appetite larger than their financial stomach.

“We wanted to have it outside, but that would have taken sponsors, and we had zero budget,” Pukala said. “We thought we could do something small scale.”

“At first, it was stressful,” Krohn said. “But we knew if we stayed calm and focused on keeping the project on the right track that we would be able to accomplish our goal.”

In all, 96 students, not counting teachers and parents, made their way through the gymnasium last Thursday evening. “Take Action Eliminate Distraction” featured a guest speaker talking about her experience of being in an accident in that the culprit of her distraction came from an often not spoken about source. 

“She was eating in her car, went off the road and hit a tree,” Pukala said. “She was lucky to walk away from it.”

Also at the event was an animated driving simulator, provided through the website teendrive365inschool.org, that gave those who participated a life-like version of what it’s like to drive while your attention is diverted. There were a handful of distraction-based games that gave all a reality check.

“You can’t do everything you think you need to do,” Pukala said. 

It was not all fun and games. A video presentation laid out an array of sobering statistics.

According to an AAA Motor poll, 94 percent of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35-percent admitted to doing it anyway. According to the National Safety Council 21-percent of teen drivers involved in fatal accidents were distracted by their cell phones. The numbers state that teen drivers are four times more likely than adults to get into car crashes or near-crashes when talking or texting on a cell phone. A teen driver with only one additional passenger doubles the risk of getting into a fatal car accident. With two or more passengers, they are five times as likely.

“It was breathtaking to see those numbers,” Krohn said. “It is way more important to pay attention to the road. It is not worth the time to answer the phone or make that text. The results can be devastating.”

The group believes it is only the beginning. 

“We brought it up to the principal, and he said if it goes well we can do it again next year,” Pukala said. “We are amazed at the turnout, and we accomplished our goal.”