Distracted driving: Skyline students learn the dangers

Steven Mauck, a traffic enforcement officer with the Front Royal Police Department, talks to the Skyline High School students about the dangers of distracted driving. Briahnna Brown/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — The Skyline High School students in Roger Seemiller’s driver’s ed class got some firsthand experience on the dangers of distracted driving Tuesday.

The educational activity was sponsored by Youth of Virgina Speak Out (YOVASO), an advocacy program that aims to prevent teen motor vehicle crashes. A lot of the equipment used to make the course was donated by State Farm, Virginia State Police trooper Pam Neff said.

The students, most of whom are in 10th grade, had to drive a golf cart with music blasting, Virginia State Police trooper Matt Kilmer in the passenger seat distracting them, all while texting or posting videos on social media. The course also included a yield sign and a stop sign the students had to obey while distracted.

While the students were driving, Neff would randomly scream or push a baby stroller in front of the cart while they were driving, and most of the students ran into or over the obstacles in front of them.

“When you throw in that distraction, it makes their reaction time even slower because they’re paying attention to their phone, they’re paying attention to the radio, they’re paying attention to the passenger and not what’s in front of them,” said Steven Mauck, a traffic enforcement officer with the Front Royal Police Department.

Virginia State Police trooper Matt Kilmer guides a Skyline High School student through the distracted driving course. Briahnna Brown/Daily

Some of the students drove fairly well with all the distractions, while others drove over four or five cones at a time. All of the students cheered when Neff brought out goggles that simulate driving while intoxicated, as they were ready to take on the challenge of completing the course without hitting anything. Many of the students were unsuccessful, however.

Student Hannah Schubert said  she learned to be more aware while driving. Daquarius Ford, a student who drove the course twice, said he learned to watch out for what’s around him on the road.

“It was fun. I was just afraid of hitting that baby stroller over there,” said Ethan Lawson, another student who drove the course twice. He also said that he learned to pay attention and not drive too fast.

Seemiller said that there are often guests who come and teach his class about different things to be wary of while on the road. Mauk has come to the class in the past to teach them about road rage as well as distracted driving, and Neff has shown them the consequences of distracted driving with a wrecked car she brought to the school.

Additionally, Seemiller said that Wal-Mart trucks are coming on Friday to show the students safe driving around tractor trailers. He said these interactive lessons are done, “so that these kids can see what’s going on before they get their license.”

According to YOVASO, eight of 10 car crashes in Virginia are related to distracted driving, and 11 percent of drivers in the U.S. under 20 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 3,477 people in the country were killed by distracted driving in 2015.

Neff said that the students who try to drive through the course learn exactly why it’s not safe to drive while distracted, and it showed in how they were driving through the cones — the students who did the best weren’t using their phones much while driving the cart. Kilmer said he was a bit nervous while riding with the students, as some of them said it was their first time behind the wheel.

“You can tell when they’re texting they’re not looking at the road,” Kilmer said. “A lot of them missed that stop sign, and after they missed it then they saw it and were like, ‘oh I wasn’t even paying attention.'”

Contact staff writer Briahnna Brown at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or bbrown@nvdaily.com