'It could save a life'

Krystle Wagner • Feb 18, 2017 at 9:00 AM

SPRING LAKE TWP. — With one hand on the steering wheel and a phone in the other, Spring Lake High School students swerved and hit other cars on Friday.

Thank goodness they were doing it on a simulator.

The students were learning firsthand the dangers of driving distracted.

Spring Lake is one of 50 schools participating in a statewide program called Strive for a Safer Drive. The program is being presented by Ford Driving Skills for Life and the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.

In an effort to promote safe driving and change the perception about distracted driving, Spring Lake seniors Meg Ready and Sophie Winn wrote an application to bring the program to their school. Ready, 17, and Winn, 18, developed their school’s campaign, which consists of three programs — an anti-texting and driving poster contest, a texting and driving simulator, and a speaker who will visit the school in March.

Countywide, students who reported they sent an email or text while driving in the past 30 days rose from about 30 percent in 2013 to about 70 percent in 2015, according to the 2015 Ottawa County Youth Assessment Survey.

When Ready tried the simulator on Friday, she hit a deer within moments of pulling out her phone to send a text. She said trying the simulator and reviewing what her driving looked like was surprising.

Ready hopes the simulator and lessons learned from it have a lasting impact.

“It could save a life,” she said.

Aside from issuing tickets, the driving simulator is a way to help drivers change their habits behind the wheel before the habit causes a serious situation, said Ottawa County Sheriff’s Deputy Jon Smoes, a school resource officer for Spring Lake Public Schools.

A first-offense texting and driving ticket is a $185 fine, and it goes up with each offense.

At the end of the campaign, students will take a survey to see if their perceptions about texting and driving have changed.

When sophomore Emily Harvey picked up her phone and typed in her password, she swerved multiple times and found herself speeding. Harvey, 16, said the simulator was an “interesting experience,” and it made her realize what could happen if people text and drive.

Since her attention was split between texting and driving, Harvey said it was challenging because she couldn’t properly stay focused on the road and checking her surroundings.

As sophomore Noah Larks tried sending a text, his speed increased from 40 mph to 70. When Larks reviewed his simulated driving with Deputy Smoes, the teen saw his car swerve from side to side before driving into the next lane.

Larks said the simulator was eye-opening and more challenging than he expected.

Now, if his friends or family plan to text and drive, Larks said he plans to have discussions with them about waiting to text because it could lead to serious consequences.

“It kills people,” he said.

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