Local high school students learn firsthand the dangers of distracted driving

THREE RIVERS, Mich. — Senior Erish Edmisten was in shock when he watched a police officer pull a white sheet over a body lying on the ground of his school’s parking lot. A few feet away he saw another student taking a sobriety test while firemen and first responders looked at the wreckage.

Then 15 minutes later it was all over. Edmisten was among the 400 eleventh and twelfth graders at Three Rivers High School who learned firsthand Wednesday what distracted driving can lead to.

“It was great opportunity seeing this,” said Edmisten during an interview after the reconstruction. “A lot of kids my age, and 16-18, they don’t really realize that things can happen that we don’t plan on.”

Three Rivers High School, along with the local police department and fire crews, recreated a crash scene to teach students about the dangers of distracted driving. A few students played the victims while real-life detectives inspected the vehicles that had previously been in crashes.  A handful of firemen cleared away the smoke and two trucks stood by ready to tow away the damage vehicles.

“It's a really big eye opener,” said student Cliff Hartzell. “You always think it's going to happen at another school or at another event. But When you really look at it, it could happen to somebody at Three Rivers High School.”

That's the message that schools officials, especially principal Carrie Balk, wanted to relay to students most. She stood among the students watching them as they watched the demonstration, making sure they connected with what they were seeing.

“What we’ve told our staff and students is this is just about making good choices,” said principal Carrie Balk. “Yes we’re using cars and this is for behind the wheel. But it's just in general, you know.”

According to Distracted.gov, over 430,000 wrecks in 2014 were caused by distracted driving. Balk said that this time of year is statistically high for drunk driving with prom and graduation events coming up.

“We’re not just looking at this time of year,” said Balk. “We’re not just looking at 11th and 12th graders. This is really a message for everyone. Whether your texting or your reaching down to grab your phone that fell down, it can be dangerous.”

Prior to the event, Balk said the school's staff and students alike signed a pledge to make good choice while on the road.

“We see the end result of texting and driving [and] distracted drivers quite often,” said Capt. Paramedic Paul Schoon with the Three Rivers Fire Department. “If we can spend a couple of hours to hopefully prevent even one of those, it’s a good goal to have.”

Three Rivers High School has been doing this for a few years now. They did reconstruction a two years ago. And this year they received a grant to not only do it again but turn it into a weeks-long campaign complete with speakers and driving simulators. All of it centering on one main message: don’t drive distracted.

“I know now that I’m not going to text and drive,” said Edmisten. “I’m not going to drink and drive. It's one of those things where it’s like seeing this and seeing how it could happen, that can happen to anybody.”

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