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Car crash exercise drives home the point

Students at Crater High School’s Academy of Health and Public Services got a stark lesson this past week in the dangers of driving drunk, or while distracted by texting, eating or simply riding in a car carrying multiple teenagers. It’s a lesson every teenager could stand to learn. For that matter, every adult as well.

“Evry 15 minutes” is a two-day program that uses students to portray victims of fatal car crashes. Every 15 minutes, a student is pulled out of class, representing another victim. The aftermath of a crash is depicted on school grounds, using real cars that were involved in real crashes and more students playing the roles of teenagers trapped inside crumpled vehicles. Real police officers and paramedics respond to the scene, taking the student actors to the emergency room, to the morgue — or, in the case of an at-fault driver, to jail.

The students’ parents are enlisted to participate as well, going to the hospital to see their son pronounced “dead,” or to a funeral home to see their daughter lying in the chapel. The idea is to reach students on an emotional level by using their friends and classmates.

The students who watch all this see the deadly consequences of driving after drinking, or driving while texting or talking on the phone.

High school students for years have been shown video presentations about unsafe driving, but it’s easy to dismiss movies using professional actors, and teenagers are prone to ignore the risks, believing it won’t happen to them.

A poll conducted by the American Automobile Association found 94% of teenage drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35% admitted to doing it anyway. The National Safety Council reports that cellphone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes every year, resulting in 390,000 injuries.

And other distractions — not just cellphone use — contribute to crashes as well. A teen driver with two passenger doubles the risk of a crash. With three or more, the risk quadruples.

Oregon has one of the toughest penalties in the country for a first offense of texting while driving: a fine of up to $1,000. That’s a powerful incentive to refrain from the dangerous practice, but it’s clearly not enough to stop drivers from doing it.

Dramatic presentations like the one at Crater this past week may connect with young drivers better than reciting dry statistics. The student participants who portrayed the victims got to go home to the their parents at the end of the exercise. The real victims aren’t so lucky.