A group of Gainesville High School students drove around the school parking lot under the influence of Fatal Vision goggles in a small police car Wednesday morning.
The students were participating in a program called Fatal Vision that aims to teach new drivers about safety and the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
While Gainesville police officers took the opportunity to encourage safe driving, they also presented the students with a helpful reminder to buckle up.
The Gainesville Police Department, with the help of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, Center Point and city traffic engineers and the city school system, unveiled new signs it hopes will promote seat belt use among high school students.
Three signs are now at the entrances of Gainesville High School and display the percentage of students who wear their seat belts.
Officers will conduct surveys by observing the number of students wearing seat belts as they leave campus after school. The initial results of the survey surprised both officers and students.
“Eighty three percent of the kids were wearing seat belts and that’s just not acceptable,” Sgt. Dean Staples said.
Staples said similar surveys have been conducted around the city for almost 15 years. The latest survey found that 96 percent of adult drivers wear their seat belts.
Staples said he’d like to see the younger drivers at the same level or better.
“We’d love to see the kids set the example for the adult drivers. And it would be great if we come over here one day and see we have 100 percent seat belt use,” Staples said.
Gainesville High School interim principal LaCrisia Larkin said educating young drivers about safety is needed. She praised the Fatal Vision program for teaching young drivers about the dangers of driving while under the influence but said promoting seat belt use is just as important.
“That especially is important because so many times it saves lives. It should just be a natural process. When they get in the car, they buckle up,” Larkin said.
But for some students, it just isn’t much of a priority.
Freshman Dariyah Browner, 14, said she didn’t wear her seat belt until she watched a movie with a violent car accident. The driver in the movie was thrown from the vehicle because he wasn’t wearing his seat belt. Browner said that made her change her ways. She said some of her classmates don’t wear their seat belts because they want to be bad.
“I was like, ‘forget that. I like my life,’” Browner said.
Laramy Head, a 16-year-old sophomore, said the seat belt can be annoying sometimes but she deals with it.
“I usually wear it because of the laws but if there weren’t laws I probably wouldn’t,” Head said.
She went on to say that it’s embarrassing that some classmates do not comply with the law.
“I don’t get that especially because so many people have died this year, and so I would think that would scare people but I guess not. I guess they just don’t think it’ll happen to them,” Head said.
Gainesville High School has lost its principal, one student and three former students this year to varying causes.
Ruth Vasquez, a 16-year-old sophomore and secretary of Students Putting Extra Emphasis on Decisions, a school chapter of SADD, said she thinks the number is too low and would like for her club to give more attention to driver safety.
Larkin said the school will also be emphasizing driver safety in the coming school years by making more announcements to remind students to buckle up.
“It’s just you expect more people to wear their seat belts. It can save your life,” Vasquez said.