Education

Somers Judge, State Troopers Show Tough Love to Teen Drivers

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Town Justice Michael J. McDermott speaks to the students. Credits: Brian Marschhauser
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State Troopers Francine Torhan and Meredith Govoni were joined by their canine officers, Wiltse and Lexy. Credits: Brian Marschhauser
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Jacy Good, a victim of a distracted driving crash, tells her story of recovery. Credits: Brian Marschhauser
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Law enforcment officials pulled no punches last week when speaking to Somers High School students about the consequences of irresponsible driving.

During an hour-long program, Town Justice Michael J. McDermott, whose four sons graduated from the high school, said he will show no leniency to any teen who fails to obey the rules of the road, especially after sitting through the PTA-sponsored event, which is a requirement for students who request a parking space at the high school.

“I get a list of every person who comes to this,” McDermott said. “If you think you’re going to come into my court and get a break after witnessing this event, you are sadly mistaken. This is your one and only break.”

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The primary focus of the evening was texting and driving, which, statistics say, makes a driver 23 times more likely to crash his or her car. Sending or receiving a text causes the driver to take their eyes off the road for an average of four to five seconds, which is akin to driving with a blindfold.

The PTA screened a 10-minute film showing the consequences of texting and driving from all points of view: the victim, the driver, first responders, and surviving family and friends. In almost all instances in the film, a teen driver either sent or received a seemingly innocuous text (“Lol,” “Yeah,” “Where u at”), leading to a fatal outcome. Parents are left to mourn, a sister who sent a fatal text is wracked with guilt, and a driver who killed an innocent person is sentenced to prison.

Though the message may sound familiar, it’s one McDermott said the students need to keep hearing.

“We do all of this because we love our children,” he said. “We want you to grow up to be the men and women that we know all of you can become. We do not want you, on a stupid mistake, to ruin your life.”

After the film, State Troopers Meredith Govoni and Francine Torhan, joined by their canine officers Lexy and Wiltse, reiterated the film’s message. Govoni said she has seen more accidents in her last three years as a trooper than in the previous 10 years combined, which she attributes to distracted driving. She warned the teens that if a trooper sees them even looking down at their phone to look at a message, they will receive a ticket, which, for a first offense, comes with five points on their license and about $293 in fines and fees.

“Your ticket is not because I’m being mean to you; it’s because I’m trying to save your life,” Govoni said.

The officers also warned against impaired driving. Years ago, Govoni said she responded to a single-car rollover on Route 9 involving three 17-year-olds. One of the passengers was ejected from the vehicle and died, she said.

“There I was, staring at a 17-year-old, who I could smell the alcohol coming from, and watched him take his last breath,” Govoni said. “There was nothing I could do for him.”

On top of risking injury or death, the average cost for somebody convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol is $10,000 (fines, court fees, attorneys fees, DMV fees, psychological evaluation, driving courses, interlock device, etc.). The punishments are similar for someone caught driving under the influence or drugs, be it illegal or prescription, Govoni said.

She also told students the importance of the “Move Over Law,” which requires drivers to switch lanes to avoid stationary emergency vehicles displaying flashing lights, including tow trucks. If for some reason a driver cannot move over because of traffic, Govoni said, they need to slow down.

During a traffic stop, she advised students to shut off their car’s engine, turn the radio down and sit still with their hands on the steering wheel until the officer approaches the window. Fumbling through a glove box might put an officer on edge, she said, even if the driver’s intention is to have their license and registration ready.

After the law enforcement officials spoke, Jacy Good returned to the stage at Somers High School, where she has told her story several times before. The victim of a major car accident in 2008, Good and her husband, Steve, now dedicate their lives to teaching teens about driver safety. Good suffered severe brain injuries at the hands of a teenage driver who was using a cell phone.

On May 18, 2008, Good and her family gathered at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., to celebrate her graduation. Following the ceremony, she and her parents headed home. More than halfway into their trip, a young driver talking on a cell phone ran a red light, causing a tractor-trailer to swerve and crash into the Good’s vehicle. Both of her parents, Jay and Jean Good, were killed instantly. Good was pulled from the wreckage and hospitalized with critical injuries and only a faint heartbeat. Doctors gave her a 10 percent chance of getting through the first night.

Good told her epic story of recovery, and how she had to re-learn how to do everything, like walking, talking, dressing and eating. The left side of her body remains partially paralyzed, as use of her arm and feeling in her face is limited.

Today, she speaks to students to educate them about the dangers of using a cell phone while driving. Good comes and tells everything she remembers, with the occasional video of her husband, Steve, to fill in the blanks. She started speaking in June of 2010, and made it her career in 2011.

To sign Jacy Good’s pledge not to use a cell phone while driving, go to her website, hangupanddrive.com.

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