“How many of us are guilty of talking and texting [in cars] and being distracted?” Morgan asked. “If you are texting, then it is eight times more dangerous than drinking and driving. If you are talking on the phone, then you are four times more likely to have a wreck than if you are not.”
Students in Morgan’s class know the statistics. They have watched videos revealing the realities of distracted driving. A grant now allows CHS students and members of the public to take a distracted driving course this Saturday, Sept. 29.
“This year, I was talking with one of the ladies I work with, Erin Hattabaugh, and I told her I am required to do safe driving, but I have no good means of which to do that,” Morgan said. “She said she would try to find a grant for a driving simulator.”
Hattabaugh tracked down a grant offered by Toyota and Discovery Education. The grand prize was $250,000 which included the simulator, $5,000 for advertisements, and driving classes for Sept. 29. She used previous projects by Morgan’s class to ensure the grant’s success.
The Toyota Driving Expectations offers a free 2.5 hour defensive-driving program to 150 applicants. The only requirement is students must bring either a parent or guardian.
“According to my contact at Toyota, the biggest hurdle is getting the parents to come, too,” Morgan said. “The students have to have a permit and a driver’s license. We are doing this program to make both students and parents aware.”
Toyota has offered this program since 2004. Morgan said she and her students have watched videos of previous programs.
“They put the students in a car and give them a bottle of water to open while they are driving. They become distracted and go off the course immediately. The see they cannot do it,” Morgan said. “Then they hand them a cellphone and have them send somebody a text. They go completely of the course. This shows the students they cannot do what they think they can.”
Morgan said she allows her students to pick a community policing project each year. Her class two years ago chose texting and driving. The students were able to get more than 800 students to sign out of approximately 1,200. These forms read, “I pledge to make my car a No Phone Zone. Beginning right now, I will do my part to help put an end to distracted driving by pledging the safest driving behavior. I commit to ...”
Students have three options: “I will not text while I am driving;” “I will not text while driving and will use only hands-free calling if I need to speak on the phone while I am driving;” or, “I will not text or use my phone while I am driving. If I need to use my phone, I will pull over to the side of the road.”
Visits to Keith Street to monitor cellphone activity by drivers have been made by Morgan’s classes.
“We are counting how many people are on their phones. What we are seeing is these people are driving differently than those who are not using their phones,” Morgan said.
Sade Pillow, Cassie Hale, and Austin Tate are three of Morgan’s students who have learned a lot throughout this process.
“I think it was a good idea. It let the message get out there about how dangerous it can be and that people do stand against it,” Tate said.
“I didn’t have a hard time getting people to sign the pledge forms. First, we asked teachers and administrators. Then we asked students. There was only one teacher I know that did not sign a form,” Pillow said. “... Students have known about people who have died due to distracted driving.”
Hale said distracted driving is about more than just the driver’s safety.
“It is not only putting your own life at risk. It is putting other people’s lives at risk,” Hale said. “People are realizing just how dangerous it is even though they think it is easy because they are good drivers. It is not even about that.”
Added Pillow, “Some people think they can multitask and take their eyes off the road.”
Pillow, Tate, and Hale said people can no longer say they do not know the repercussions of their actions.
“I guess the good thing about spreading the word is no one can ever say they didn’t know again. That puts responsibility in people’s hands, which is good,” Hale said.
Morgan’s classes have a history of becoming dedicated to their projects. They are determined to make a difference.
“Last year my students chose drinking and driving. We had a “wrecked” car on the front lawn for two weeks leading up to prom,” Morgan said. “Friday before prom the juniors and seniors got to go outside while the rest of the school watched a mock DUI streamed live inside.”
Car crashing noises filled the air as “dead” students laid out on the sidewalk. Each one sported bloody make-up and fake injuries. The Grim Reaper showed up to collect the dead.
“I thought we were going to have 500 kids sitting out on the lawn who were not going to be quiet long enough to hear what was going on,” Morgan said. “You could have heard a pin drop when those kids came running out. I mean, it got their attention.”
Fellow students began crying as the Grim Reaper escorted their departed friends to the county medical examiner’s white van. Firefighters soon arrived to clear the wreckage. Teachers then stood before students with signs that read, “We are doing this because we do not want to go to your funeral.”
M&M Mars will be providing candy at the free distracted driving course Saturday. Those interested must be registered. For more information, contact Cheri Morgan at CHS.
“I have 75 students this semester. I believe it is really starting to open their eyes,” Morgan said. “What they do with it is their decision, but at least they know now.”