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Drive smart expo teaches students about safe practices
Program is considered worthwhile for the officers involved
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Levi Hales, right, a motor officer with the Duluth Police Department, demonstrates to a group of Flowery Branch High School students the importance of wearing a seat belt using a rollover simulator Thursday during the Operation Drive Smart Expo. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Flowery Branch High School students bared the cold Thursday during a demonstration by the Duluth Police Department to discuss the importance of teen safe driving.

The department's Community Oriented Police Services Division hosted its Operation Drive Smart Expo as part of a state-funded grant program with the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

Students were made aware of various unsafe driving habits and the possible consequences that could result. The program included a seat belt rollover station that simulates a car crash with a dummy wearing a seat belt and another demonstration without a seat belt.

"We show the difference of what happens to you inside the vehicle during a rollover," Duluth Police Sgt. Steve Daniels said.

Members of the Hall County Fire Department were also on hand to assist in the program.

"I think it's beneficial to the students, especially with the seat belts," Hall County Fire Lt. Christy Martin said. "We're just here showing them the extrication equipment and things we do after there is a wreck."

Officers not only discussed the dangers of driving under the influence, but also texting and other distractions.

"We talk about texting while driving, cell phone use and we talk about being impaired and driving," Daniels said.

A cone course was set up to allow students to simulate driving a vehicle. Student volunteers wore a pair of goggles that give the effect of being drunk and attempted to maneuver the course — a tough task for most.

Officers also performed a standard field sobriety test using students while wearing the goggles.

Sophomore Ryan Corrigan stepped up to the task of attempting the sobriety test and found it to be more difficult than he originally imagined.

"The goggles make it a different aspect of what you can see," he said. "I didn't believe that it could be that much different from what you're looking at until after you put the goggles on."

And Corrigan understands the demonstration is much different from actually being intoxicated because sobering up takes more time than simply removing goggles.

"You can take the goggles off, but once you've been drinking you can't change it," Corrigan said.

Daniels said the program is intended to influence young drivers to avoid bad habits while they are still young.

"They're inexperienced and this is the right age to get them," he said. "We usually try to get them before prom because kids are going to drink during prom, so we try to drive in them the importance of not drinking and driving."

Duluth Master Patrol Officer Matt Baker enthusiastically informed the students of the dangers of driving intoxicated and was hopeful the students were impacted.

"I'm hopeful it has a good effect," he said. "We try to go through and teach them about driving under the influence — how it impairs and how killing somebody under the influence is no different than killing somebody with a gun or a knife."

Baker said contrary to popular belief, field sobriety tests are not designed to fail.

"We show them they're not set up to fail and we show them with the beer goggles that at a .08 (blood alcohol content) it does impair them," he said. "We hope that they'll walk away understanding that even though a bunch of people believe they might drive better with alcohol in their system that it's not true."

Hall County school officials and teachers also focus largely on influencing their students to avoid not only driving drunk, but also avoiding drugs and alcohol altogether.

The schools system's high school curriculum includes a required health and safety unit that incorporates drug and alcohol awareness. Students must also complete the requirement before they can obtain a driver's license — part of Joshua's Law that began in 2007.

"It's part of our curriculum with the alcohol, drug awareness program and with Joshua's Law and all the legislation that the state continues to pass down," said Jimmy Sorrells, physical education department head for Flowery Branch.

"It's important for us to educate young folks on the dangers of driving," he added.

The Duluth Police Department travels to 15 Georgia high schools each year as part of the program.

Flowery Branch Principal Mark Coleman said he booked the program in July because it was in such high demand from other schools.

"I think that any time that we can expose our students to safe driving habits and aid them in any way to learn the seriousness of when they get behind the wheel of a car ... we need to provide those opportunities for our students any chance we get," Coleman said.

Many students did seem to be affected by the program including sophomore August Huckleberry.

"Don't drink and drive because it can hurt others including yourself and your families," she said.

After witnessing fellow students attempt the sobriety test and seeing the dummy ejected from the crash simulator, Huckleberry said, "It gives you a real-life experience."

Regardless of whether it has an impact on many students or just a few, the program is considered worthwhile for the officers involved.

"Some of them are going to listen, some of them aren't, but if we can save 10 lives — or one at that — then we did a good thing," Daniels said.

 

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