Driving To Distraction
Event sends teens powerful message about the dangers of texting and driving.
“Working with teens, we know how important texting is to them; we also know how dangerous it is,” said Adelman. “So we were thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Hebrew Memorial Chapel to help keep our teens safe.”
The teens were divided into groups of five or six and instructed to drive three laps around the course without using their cell phones. Park staff members and volunteers from Hebrew Memorial served as timers and judges. Then each teen drove another three laps while texting the message “Be Home Soon” to various unfamiliar phone numbers. Several lost control of their go-carts, crashing into other vehicles or guard rails, cell phones flying. Those who didn’t crash drove significantly slower than they had during the non-texting round.
“I was shocked at the difference, said Greg Wainwright, Paradise Park staff member. “The speeds decreased from 20-25 mph to about 10-15 mph. The ones who didn’t slow down lost control of their carts.”
Some of the participants were taken aback when they saw the hearse parked at the entrance to Paradise Park, along with an EMS truck with blinking emergency lights. Car magnets and key chains bore the slogan “Don’t Text and Drive — We’d Rather Wait — Hebrew Memorial Chapel.”
Planners said they believed such a powerful message was necessary to convince their teenage audience how dangerous texting while driving can be.
“Teens think they’re invincible; they don’t realize their own mortality,” said Rabbi Boruch Levin, Hebrew Memorial Chapel executive director. “I want to tell them, ‘Look at your last text. Was it worth dying for?’”
More than one teen described the hearse as “creepy.”
“It was pretty poignant,” said Sheryl Isenstein of West Bloomfield, whose daughter Ellery, 14, participated in the event. “It was pretty graphic, but anything they can do to get the message across to these kids …”
Some of the teen drivers still are waiting to take drivers’ training. Josh Israel of Farmington Hills, 14, said he is determined never to text while driving because he crashed into walls and other go-carts while attempting to drive and text.
“You’re just putting your life on the line,” he said.
According to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and published on the U. S. Department of Transportation website, www.Distraction.gov, 5,474 people were killed and an estimated additional 448,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes that involved distracted driving during 2009. The highest proportion of distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes was in the under-20 age group.
The U. S. Department of Transportation cites three kinds of driver distractions: visual, taking eyes off the road; manual, taking one or both hands off the wheel; and cognitive, paying attention to something other than driving. Texting usually involves all three, which is why it is so dangerous. Other activities such as eating, talking to other passengers, adjusting the radio, or using a navigation system or other electronic device can also cause an accident by diverting the driver’s attention from the road.
“I was coming around a bend, fixing a letter I had messed up in my text. I looked up and crashed into a gate; I didn’t even see it before,” said Matthew Dumond, 17, of West Bloomfield.
Donna Harbour, director of sales and marketing for Paradise Park, said she was happy to offer the venue after Dube presented the idea.
“I’m also a parent and a grandparent, so I thought it was great,” she said. “I think they [the teens] learned something tonight — I hope they did.”
Some participants described the experience as “scary,” including Bri Dines, 16, of West Bloomfield and Elana Weinstein of Farmington Hills, adviser for the Aliyah BBG chapter.
Erica Lowenthal of West Bloomfield said she was startled when her go-cart crashed and her cell phone flew into the middle of the track. Amichai Nadiv, 14, of Farmington Hills said he was aware of going much slower when he was texting to avoid a crash.
“I’m getting my license next month, and because of this, I’m never going to do it [text and drive],” said Ariel Stollman, 16, of Farmington Hills.
At the end of the evening, each participant signed a pledge provided by Hebrew Memorial Chapel stating they will not text nor use a cell phone while driving now or in the future. The adults who were present hope it is a promise the teens will keep.
“This was a lot of fun and games, but kids have to realize this is serious,” Levin said.