SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Distracted driving can emotionally scar anybody’s life. Just ask those involved with Tuesday’s simulation at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School.
A chillingly realistic demonstration was put on by the police, paramedic, and fire departments of both Scotch Plains and Fanwood in addition to the school’s DECA club. The purpose of the presentation was to show high school students the horrors that can come while driving distracted or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Students got an up-close-and-personal experience and vivid images of the scary scenes of a fatal accident caused by impaired driving.
“The goal is to teach the kids: Don’t drink and drive with distractions,” Fanwood Police Chief Richard Trigo told TAPinto.net. “Every ten minutes in New Jersey, a teen is involved in an accident, and a lot of it attributes to stuff that can be avoided — meaning texting and driving, kids fooling around in the car, and also drunk driving. The message is that there’s consequences for your actions; people get hurt, and people die. You don’t want to be that one responsible for somebody else’s death.”
Using a donated vehicle ruined in a previous wreck, student and parent actors took on different roles to display all of those affected by such accidents. Portions of Westfield Road were shut down while police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks responded to the scene of a mock accident. In the blink of an eye, sirens encircled the scene just seconds after a mock 911 call was placed. Upon arrival, the passenger, Nathaniel Redmount -- a senior at SPFHS -- was rushed out of the car and paramedics attempted life-saving procedures, while students watched intently.
Perhaps the most gut-wrenching moment arose when “parents” of those involved in the crash rushed onto the scene in a state of hysteria, emotionally distraught upon seeing their “children” in critical medical condition.
Emotions that began fabricated became real for many, defining the simulation’s power.
“This hits home; when you get to be out on the scene, have the parents running up… it’s real,” said Scotch Plains Chief of Police, Ted Conley. “When you see it, there’s a lot that you learn and see just by being there that you wouldn’t get from a classroom. By being on the scene, seeing someone laying there, seeing the response … it really does [mean a lot for students to witness].”
"Once a year, I have to go to someone's house and deliver the bad news of someone's death in an auto accident," said Sergeant Jerald Brown.
To ensure the event was as realistic as possible, police officers and paramedics conducted the exact same procedures that they would in a real accident. The drill was as important to first responders as it was to the students receiving the message.
“I’m immediately thinking, ‘How are the passengers? Can we do anything right now to save anyone?’ Life is number one,” said Fanwood police officer Elliott Bernard, who assisted with on-scene accident response. “I make sure the paramedics are on scene, make sure all hands are on deck and everything’s coordinated and documented. Without a good team coming together, we wouldn’t be able to do this.”
Nick Route, a student at the high school and member of the rescue team, added: “At first, you don’t really realize [what’s happening] because you’re adrenaline is pumping so much. After the fact, you sort of realize what you just saw.… It’s definitely good to practice, so you’re ready for the real situation.”
Through the host of authentic, powerful images from the day, deeper messages were conveyed: The text message can wait; Uber can be called; Pull over if the phone call must be answered … But never drive if attention is not fully on the road ahead.
Addressed to students through police chiefs of both towns, driving distracted can kill anyone, anywhere, at anytime, no matter what factor accounts for the impairment.
“When this happens every time something goes on, we believe that it happens in other places and it doesn’t happen here,” Chief Trigo said. “It does happen here, and it will continue to happen here unless the message is sent home.”
“If we reach one kid,” he added, “It’s worth it.”