A teenager winding up in a police cruiser generally is not viewed as a good thing by many.
A group of local teens, however, recently had the chance to learn a little bit about safe driving while behind the wheel of one of Seymour’s police cruisers.
“It’s a fun thing for teens to do, and we cover some of the things driver’s education doesn’t teach,” Capt. Carl Lamb said of the department’s Rule the Road driving program.
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The program is in its third year and already has shown impressive results, Lamb said.
City officers investigated 220 accidents involving young drivers between 15 and 18 in 2013, he said. The number, however, has declined since then. After 2014, there were 148 accidents involving that age group, and in 2015, that number fell to 99, according to the police department.
“We saw a 33 percent decrease after the first year and 55 percent this last year,” Lamb said. “That’s a lot of change.”
The program at Freeman Municipal Airport on the city’s southwest side is divided into stations where students can learn about different aspects of driving.
The drifting station, for instance, teaches students how to better control a vehicle that is sliding on ice, snow or water.
“We really want them to learn that a big cause of accidents is distracted driving, but we also want to teach them other driving experiences without actually having to go through situations like snow or ice,” Lamb said.
That station also uses a special device that lifts the back wheel of the car simulating drifting or sliding sideways, similar to hydroplaning.
“It’s fun,” senior Grant Handloser said after completing that station. “I learned that when you start to drift, you turn the wheel into the drift to keep control.”
Another station used a semitrailer and a harvester to teach students about driving near farm equipment.
“We learned where blind spots surrounding large vehicles were,” senior Kassidy Brock said.
Brock said she also enjoyed the station that teaches teens about the effects of drunken driving. That station required the teens to drive an all-terrain vehicle through obstacles while wearing goggles that simulate drinking.
“I think it teaches us a lot about how we need to be safe,” Brock said.
Other stations included one that requires the driver to make split-second decisions at high speeds to see how the vehicles behave, driving an obstacle course and learning about over-correcting when a tire leaves the road.
Indoors, there was a simulator that allowed operators to change factors, such as weather, visibility and alcohol levels, in order to simulate how reaction times can be delayed.
Most activities involved students riding in the cruisers with officers, all of whom have been trained in driving in extreme situations.
“The simulator was nice because you have to be aware of everything around you,” senior Haley Westfall said. “Just because everything seems safe around you doesn’t mean that it won’t change fast.”
In the simulator, just as in real life, this means oftentimes being aware of the other drivers and the fact that they could make bad decisions, too, Westfall said.
Handloser and other participants said they all felt the program gave them an advantage and in many cases taught them experiences that they haven’t had to deal with through their limited driving experience.
“I haven’t had my license for long, so it’s great I’m getting to do this in a safe environment instead of just when I have to do it for real,” Handloser said.
Each year, 55 students are selected from the list of applicants given to the police department by Seymour High School.
The department then finds a day that works with the Rule the Road program, the school and the airport.
This year, the event also happened to fall during National Teen Driver Safety Week.
Lamb said the department plans to continue the program, funded through the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, in the future.
“We don’t have any other single program that decreases accidents for teens as well as this,” he said.
Other departments around the state now offer the program, but Seymour’s is the oldest, Lamb said.
Some of the students involved said they learned new things and also enjoyed the experience.
“It’s a good program,” Brock said. “We have great officers here to teach us.”
For information about the Rule the Road program, visit in.gov/cji/2382.htm.