Responders paint graphic picture of distracted driving crashes
“It doesn't take long. It’s very quick and it’s very horrible,” Telstar student Dustyn Bailey told his schoolmates.
Bailey, who has been in a car crash, joined area emergency responders Friday in trying to make teens understand the dangers of distracted driving.
The two-hour workshop was a joint effort of responders, the Bethel Rotary Club and school staff. The entire high school student body heard from members of Bethel Ambulance and the Bethel Fire Department, State Trooper Kyle Tilsley, and Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant and deputies from his department.
“Driving distracted and doing things you know you shouldn't, it can really affect somebody,” Bailey said. “It's more than making a choice for yourself. It's making a choice for other people and your community. I've learned from it. I got away pretty lucky.”
Tilsley, a 16-year veteran of the Maine State Police, told students what distracted driving crashes can look like from his perspective.
“I’ve knocked on someone's door 34 times,” he said. “Thirty-four times I've gotten to tell someone that their kid is dead.”
Eighty percent of accidents are caused by distracted drivers, he said, and the number one distraction is a wireless device, commonly a cell phone.
“I don't think I see a car go by these days that someone doesn’t have a [cell phone] glued to their head,” said Tilsley.
He asked how many students in the room had been in a car in the past week in which the driver was using a cell phone.
Most hands went up.
Other distractions, said Tilsley, can include eating, grooming, playing with a radio or CD player, other passengers and even the driver’s emotions, and such incidents happen most frequently among teenagers.
“You've got to have your mind on where you’re at, and that's behind the wheel of a car,” he said.
At the crash scene
Bethel Fire Chief Mike Jodrey described what an accident victim would experience trapped in a vehicle.
“You will smell all kinds of strange smells - gasoline, antifreeze, battery acid, blood, bodily fluids. All you're going to want to do is get out. But you have to be patient. We may have to cut you out with the Jaws of Life.”
In that case, firefighters would first have to work their way through undeployed air bags that could still pose a danger, he said. To protect against flying glass and other material as the Jaws are used, he said, victims are covered with a tarp.
“It’s going to be dark, noisy and scary. We may have to hold you down,” he said. “The best advice I can give you is, ‘Don't get yourself in that situation.’”
Deputies Josh Wyman and Willie Nelson focused on OUI driving, describing the circumstances under which they might stop a driver. In addition to the obvious cases of erratic driving, the deputies said, they can also stop young drivers if they believe they are coming from an underage drinking party.
Using student volunteers, they demonstrated how they conduct field sobriety tests, and why.
“We're not trying to hassle you,” said Nelson. “We're doing this so everybody is safe.”
Gallant talked about the importance of making good decisions and not being influenced by peer pressure.
“There are consequences associated with what you do,” he said. “We see so many choices that can't be corrected.”
To further drive home their points, workshop organizers plan to stage a mock accident at the school next spring.
After Friday's sessions, students completed written surveys about their impressions of the workshop.
Sample comments include:
" It is frustrating to be in the car with a distracted driver. Please ban cell phone use in cars!"
" I learned about what it is like to witness being involved in a vehicle accident and to trust the paramedics."
"The guest speakers' messages were very impacting, and indeed opened my and other people's eyes."