Students, staff and community members heard and experienced first-hand the realities of distracted driving when State Trooper Jesse Grabow presented at Minnesota School of Business-St. Cloud last week.
Grabow, a third-generation state trooper, spoke on distracted driving statistics in the state of Minnesota and played a video called “Young Forever” which graphically highlighted actual crashes within the state due to inattentive or drunk driving.
“I don’t like to call them accidents,” he said. “Most of the time, these [crashes] are preventable.” He also shared a personal story about his grandfather being struck and killed by a distracted driver.
Texting and cell phone usage are common causes, he said, despite the fact that texting (or reading/sending email) while driving is illegal. Part of the solution, he believes, is to make texting “socially unacceptable.” In that way, more people pay attention. Other forms of distraction, however, can be just as deadly, Grabow pointed out. Eating from the driver’s seat, applying make-up and adjusting music all are common hazards.
Assistant Stearns County Attorney Treye Kettwick added to the event by discussing the legal consequences of distracted driving. Even if you survive a crash, there are consequences, he reminded the audience, including fines and jail time. Beyond criminal charges, there is also the possibility of civil lawsuits–something few people ever consider.
Reinforcing the magnitude of distracted driving, the Stearns County Sheriff’s department, in conjunction with Waite Park Police, set up a driving course demonstration with a pedal car in the college parking lot. Student volunteers were asked to complete the course, first while answering a text message and then while wearing drunk-driving simulation goggles. As students grappled for control of the car, cones often went flying or were caught beneath the carriage. It was a humorous but powerful message about what we think we can do in a car vs. what actually happens.
Other community partners were on site to answer questions. Jim Stevens, an Emergency Medical Technician from Gold Cross Ambulance, was on hand with first-person experience about crashes. Doug Pool and Aaron Burmeister from Liberty Mutual Insurance came as a resource in terms of the cost and effect of distracted driving. Brent Curtis from the Stearns County Sheriff’s department set up the driving course, and Alicia Mages of the Waite Park Police provided the drunk-driving goggles and assisted with the course.
“I’m guilty of texting [behind the wheel,]” admitted Melissa Kreitzer, a Medical Assisting student who volunteered to drive the course. “Today is definitely making me look at my habits.”
That is just the kind of awareness that the event organizers were hoping for.
“With the success of this event, we are looking at doing a mock crash here at MSB in the spring,” said Deb Berglund, Health Management Chair.
Sometimes, getting the word out takes a lot more than words. It requires sitting (and texting) from the driver’s seat.