SPARTA, NJ – On the afternoon before the prom, Sparta High School seniors were gathered in the auditorium for a program about driving safely. It was not the same old lecture, however. Students were greeted by New Jersey State Trooper James Bambara. He had been invited by Student Assistance Coordinator Danielle Colte.
Bambara was joined by Helen Woolley from Progressive Health of Pennsylvania. Woolley and Bambara teamed up about seven years ago.
They also had a panel of speakers with them. Paul, Steve, Tara, Laurie, Michelle, Justin, Jana and Alicia. Each of whom had suffered a traumatic brain injury as a teenager. Together with Bambara and Woolley, the eight have been traveling together for seven years.
Bambara introduced the program by discussing the causes of teen accidents. He used short video clips of scenes ending in accidents to drive the point home. He said most of the accidents result from speeding and distracted driving.
“The faster you go the bigger the mess,” Bambara said with accompanying slides showing the effects of a high-speed crash on the body’s anatomy.
According to the presentation the top causes of car accidents among teenagers are:
- Failing to wear a seat belt
- Speeding (42% of all fatal teen accidents)
- Impaired driving
- Passenger distractions
- Driving at night
- Failing to anticipate hazards
- Ignoring car maintenance
- Talking or texting on a cell phone
Woolley introduced each of the panelists. Each of them told the story of “the day that changed their lives forever.”
One had fallen asleep behind the wheel driving home from work on the night shift. Since he was not wearing his seatbelt, he went “through the windshield, 35 feet in the air and landed on my head.” His told of his hard work to just get to be able to walk.
“I hope someday to run again,” he told the students.
Another panelist had been out drinking and made the bad decision to get behind the wheel. He is now confined to a wheel chair. Another was in the car when the driver was distracted. And on and on the stories went.
“The consequences we see is tickets and fines,” Bambara said. “But what happens if it is you and the consequences are permanent.”
Bambara put the program together in an effort to see what could be done to help bring down the number of serious teen accidents.
In May Bambara was honored by the New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino, with 29 others, for his “outstanding achievements and innovations in Community Policing,” according to an official statement. The ceremony was held at the Rutgers University Livingston Campus Student Center.