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Dramatic mock crash focuses on distracted driving

March 25, 2013

A helicoptor landing, sirens and lights and pools of blood sent a message at Death Valley High School’s texting-while-driving mock crash on March 21. Photo by Carrie Rock

Owens Valley youth are getting the benefit of a new focus on mock crash demonstrations that impress the potentially devastating results of distracted driving by teenage drivers – text messaging.
During a simulated vehicle collision, complete with play victims and real rescue and law enforcement personnel, Death Valley Unified School District middle and high school students saw the increasingly prevalent, devastating results of texting while driving, said DVUSD Superintendent Jim Copeland.
The “tried and true” live enactment, or mock crash, method has been focusing attention on “the dangers of drunk driving” for years, said Inyo County Probation Assistant Vicki Simpson.
With a fresh focus on the contemporary issue of distracted driving due to texting, this method now shows “youth what can happen in a split second” especially among drivers under the age of 20 – the largest percentage of distracted drivers, Simpson said. The simulations are intended to highlight the “incredible loss to the families, friends and the community from a senseless distraction.”
Of these distractions, which also include cell phone use, eating, reading GPS’s, maps, etc., grooming and adjusting a radio, CD or MP3 player, texting is “by far the most alarming,” Simpson said, because it “requires visual, manual and cognitive attention.” According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, texting “creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted,” she added.
Since one of the best ways to “put an end to the problem,” is through vivid education, on March 21, Inyo County Juvenile Probation and Sheriff’s Office personnel “did just that,” Simpson said.
These agencies were part of a simulated-crash cast of characters that also included: emergency medical technicians and other personnel from the Southern Inyo Fire Protection District and the Mercy Air Medical evacuation helicopter unit, out of Las Vegas; Mike Inks of Pahrump, who has volunteered his tow truck to provide the crash vehicle for two years now and student actors, Copeland said.
DVHS senior Alexandra Gillespie played the driver, senior Michelle Simer played a surviving victim and junior Brittany Pelland played a victim “who didn’t make it,” Copeland said. A 4-year-old-child-sized mannequin, covered in a bloody sheet, represented “the innocent involved” in distracted driving collisions, Simpson added.
DVHS students had been prepared for the mock crash demonstration over the last month in two previous distracted driving presentations by resident Shoshone Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Graeff. Graeff has seen a lot of crashes and done many parent notifications, Simpson said. “He is really connected with the kids and that plays a big role” in their receptivity, Copeland added.
Prior to the simulation, EMTs and pilots explained their jobs to the 25-member student body, Copeland said.
Then, students walked out to the crash scene. EMT’s removed the visibly shaken driver from the crashed car. A dead victim lay across the hood, her blood flowing over the side of the car. The Mercy Air Medical chopper landed and the surviving victim was flown out to a trauma center in Las Vegas. All the while, a tiny corpse lay covered in the street beside an abandoned toy.
The entire 40-minute mock crash was very affecting, said the superintendent. Students “may have been more attentive to this one” than they are to the drunk driving mock crashes. “They hear about drunk driving all the time. Texting is so much a part of their lives” that they don’t consider the consequences. This one connected the dots for them; they saw the impact of texting and phoning” while driving.
The simulation showed “the reality” of how drives get “distracted and lose track” and how people “pay for it with their lives,” Copeland said. It was “sobering” for the students. “It really hit home. If it saves one life, it was 40 minutes well spent.”
Even though students know it’s a mock crash, Simpson said, in her experience these simulations look “pretty darn real” with sirens, red lights flashing, blood and “gore. It’s all a little more real to the kids after the crash sinks in.”
Even the student actors, who had had no rehearsal but were only taken briefly through the scenario an hour ahead of time, said the experience seemed disturbingly real to them, Copeland said.
Copeland thanked all the agencies involved and the Wild Iris volunteers who stepped in at the last minute to assist. He also said “a whole lot of the credit” goes to Simpson. Simpson expressed gratitude to Susan Sorrells and husband Robbie Haines – without the use of their property there would be no helicopter landing. She also thanked Juvenile Probation Legal Secretary Dolores Quintana, an indispensable volunteer.
Simpson said the next mock crash will be staged at Lone Pine High School on May 21.

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