Teen driver safety is a serious issue. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teens. AAA research has shown that for every driver age 15 to 17 killed in a crash, there are nearly two other road users killed, including other drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists. Teen driving crashes cost society billions of dollars in annual medical expenses, lost work, property damage, and lives are forever changed. The unique challenge presented by teen drivers has been recognized over and over again and Windham High School has focused in on distraction in preparation for National Teen Driver Safety Awareness Week October 18 through October 24.
On Oct. 14, Windham High School hosted a special informational day aimed at curbing teen driver crashes. AAA Northern New England and AT&T joined forces to deliver a powerful message with a number of interactive activities throughout the day. AT&T presented the "It Can Wait" campaign, which warns against texting, web-surfing, emailing and other forms of potentially dangerous smartphone use while driving.
AAA engaged students in a number of hands on activities with the opportunity to experience a distracted driving golf cart cone course and distracted driving simulator while being quizzed on laws and best practices related to teen driver safety. The Windham and Scarborough Police Department manned “The Convincer” a sled in which a student can buckle up and experience the force of a 5 mph crash.
After the morning activities, event organizers; health teacher Melissa Dubois, school resource officer Jeff Smith and assistant principal Kelli Deveaux ushered students and teachers into the auditorium for a presentation by prominent speakers. The speakers included Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Windham’s Senator Bill Diamond (Senator Diamond is a traffic safety champion and responsible for introducing many of Maine’s distracted driving laws). Secretary Dunlap and Senator Diamond spoke passionately about distracted driving and the importance of breaking this tragic habit in society. Senator Diamond encouraged students to talk with their parents and inspire them to eliminate the intoxicating behavior also.
After the speakers concluded AT&T vice president Owen Smith administered an informational presentation on the frightening statistics related to teens and distracted driving. The AT&T presentation culminated with a powerful video “The Last Text”. The silence following the video was profound and at that point the only thing that could have brought home the message further was watching Kaylin Cook and Ben Tracy make their way slowly onto the stage, Ben was using a crutch and Kaylin steading herself with a walker and supported with two walking boots and a prominent spinal brace. Kaylin and Ben quietly shared their story of the day their lives were forever changed by a distracted driver. The collision occurred this past August when an SUV crossed the center line on Route 302 and hit them head on, resulting in Ben having a badly damaged leg and Kaylin requiring brain surgery and 8 weeks in a wheelchair prior to being able to get around with the walker. The couple was joined on stage by Kaylin’s mother Suzanne Grace the founder and executive director of the Tall Pines Safety Resource Center a nonprofit charitable organization in Maine dedicated to providing education and information to reduce the incidence of unintentional injuries. Grace spoke of how she works to help educate parents on how to keep their children safe and how she almost lost her daughter in this horrible crash.
The theme for National Teen Driver Safety Week is “Avoid Regret” and event organizers hope that the experience will help Windham teens make responsible decisions behind the wheel and speak up if they are a passenger or friend. TDS week is an opportune time for parents to speak to their teenagers about motor vehicle safety so they too can “Avoid Regret”. For more information about teen driver safety visit www.teendriving.aaa.com, www.Tallpinesafety.org and www.itcanwait.com.