Two cars sat motionless after a staged head-on collision Saturday morning on McDonald Street near Kasting Park in Seymour.
The scenario was one all too common today; teenagers driving and getting distracted by using cellphones, adjusting the radio, putting on makeup or eating, and then causing a crash.
The mock car wreck was the idea of the new Students Against Destructive Decisions, or SADD organization, at Seymour High School as a way to bring awareness to the dangers of distracted driving.
In the past, SADD has operated as Students Against Drunk Driving, but has expanded to encompass other decisions that can negatively affect driving including drugs and texting.
Story continues below gallery
Seymour’s chapter restarted last August.
“It just kind of encompasses any kind of destructive decision anyone can make,” said senior SADD member Gunnar Ortlieb.
Ortlieb said the group is trying to focus on areas it feels are most common forms of destructive behavior while driving.
“Texting and driving, distracted driving and just bad decisions that could lead to stuff like this,” he said.
Ortlieb and other seniors involved in SADD used video cameras to capture Saturday’s mock wreck for a public service announcement they are developing to be shown to future classes and to enter in the Toyota Teen Drive 365 competition.
In order to make the wreck as realistic as possible, the students recruited Seymour Police Department, fire department, Jackson County Emergency Medical Services, Hampton’s Towing and St. Vincent Health StatFlight medical helicopter to participate.
Making the video was not easy, said Ortlieb, who, with camera in hand, directed every move. The students enlisted the help of school resource Officer Keith Williams to help coordinate all the agencies involved.
“He’s got a lot of connections,” Ortlieb said. “He was able to help us organize all of this and make sure everyone was on board with it.”
The video will serve as the group’s legacy project, Ortlieb said.
The Toyota Teen Drive 365 competition requires a submission of an original public service announcement about safe driving and awards $15,000 to the winning submission.
If Seymour SADD’s entry wins, students plan to use the money to fund future club activities and for scholarships. The students also will be given the opportunity to work with a Discovery film crew to reshoot the video into a television-ready public service announcement.
The plot of the video involves the difference between driving properly without distractions and being reckless and how the results can be dramatically different. The story line shows three teens making plans to meet at Kasting Park in Seymour.
In one vehicle, senior Kyle Combs drives alone without any distractions. He does not use his phone or adjust his radio while driving. He arrives at the park safely.
Seniors Peyton Heyne and Addie Rudge do not take the same precautions as Combs and end up hitting another car head-on on McDonald Street.
Rudge is the driver and survives the crash, but has significant gashes on her head.
Heyne — Rudge’s best friend — does not survive, leaving Rudge to live with the consequences forever. At the end of the video, Heyne emerges and asks the audience, “Was it worth it?”
“This all converges at the end and shows that they’re both in the same situation, meeting at the same place, but they’ve ended up in two very different scenarios,” Ortlieb said.
Many students nowadays are distracted by technology in the car, Ortlieb said, adding that having a cellphone all the time has created an environment where it is second nature to use it, even while driving.
“You know, in the ’90s and a little later this wasn’t really an issue, because not everyone had a cellphone, and the radio was really the only distraction,” he said. “Now, we have technology; we’ve got cameras, Snapchat and Facebook, and all this stuff going on at once, and it’s just too much for us to handle, especially at this young age.”
Young people make up the largest portion of drivers who were distracted at the time of a wreck, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Ten percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash, according to the NHTSA.
Ortlieb said he sees evidence of kids in that age group using Snapchat and other social media applications while driving.
“I see Snapchats all the time of people driving down the road, which means they’re taking the time, taking their eyes off the road and taking time to type up a caption and post the video, and they’re all doing this while presumably moving down the road,” he said. “So it’s extremely dangerous, and then there’s messing with your Spotify or your iTunes, and that’s not the place to do that, you should do that before you start driving.”
Heyne agreed, saying there are a multitude of things that can distract young, inexperienced drivers.
“I think there is a lot of stuff that teens have in their car or with them all the time like cellphones, makeup, putting on music, eating and all that kind of stuff, and I think more people are doing it nowadays because it’s so easy to do,” she said. “Multitasking has become such a big thing, and people think they can do it while driving, and this shows what can really happen if you make a decision like that.”
Ortlieb said the experience of bringing all the students, participating agencies and the community together is what made all the work worth it. He hopes the video will make students think twice about their choices while driving.
“I hope people see that the stuff these people do seems minor at the time, but it can lead to extravagant things like a serious car accident and much more than it was worth to send that Snapchat or text message,” he said.
Rudge agreed, saying she hopes the video helps students make the right choices and brings awareness to SADD.
“I hope it gets the message across of what can happen if you make these kinds of decisions and shows how people can be affected,” she said. “In this scenario, I’m the bad driver and I kill my best friend and I have to live with that for the rest of my life; so for people to see this video and see how it can happen in real life is important.”
Combs described the experience as eye-opening and hopes that others see this as a warning for what could happen if they do not use proper precautions while driving.
“I hope people realize that stuff like this happens all the time,” he said, adding that he thinks many students get distracted by cellphones and music in the car. “It’s not a rare occasion; people are getting into car accidents due to distracted driving every day.”
Seymour High School guidance counselors Sheana Harmon and Nikki Storey serve as advisors to SADD. They were on hand Saturday morning to see the students’ work come to fruition.
Both counselors said they were very proud of the students involved and think the project is an important one for the school.
Harmon said counselors do not have guidelines to share information with students about distracted driving, but hopes SADD fills in that gap to help raise awareness.
“I hope that students really think about their decisions before they do something, because as teenagers, I think they can be impulsive and act on things without thinking,” she said. “I hope they stop and think before the next time they get their phone out or before they start their car they just stop and think about what they’re doing before they act.”
Storey said the video will become a tool for the school to use to educate students on safe driving.
“I think it’s powerful and it shows doing it the right way and the wrong way,” she said. “I think even adults sometimes take the responsibility of driving too lightly and kids just getting their license tend to not think about these things at all.”