Now that prom season is arriving, parents and educators are ramping up lessons and lectures about the ills of distracted and drunken driving. This week those lessons spilled over into a playful exercise at Pleasant Valley High School where students were asked to follow a series of commands while wearing goggles designed to simulate drunkenness.
“Although it seems like a fun activity there is a serious element to it,” said Cerilla Roe, an English teacher at Pleasant Valley. The school holds its prom Saturday in Gadsden.
For several years the school has held the same exercise before the prom to encourage students to avoid drunk driving. This year, with help from the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, they added two new elements — texting and driving.
One of the dozens of 11th- and 12th-grade students who participated in the exercise was Pleasant Valley baseball player Dalton Turner. In the outfield, he can catch a baseball not three inches in diameter but during the Thursday exercise he could hardly catch a soft foam ball more than three times as large.
A Calhoun County Sheriff’s Deputy stood in front of him and conducted a field sobriety test. Turner and dozens of his classmates wobbled and laughed their way through the exercise, which included catching the foam ball. When the goggles were off, they said, their proverbial eyes were opened.
“Before I went up there I thought I could catch the ball, but when I went up there I put the goggles on, one eye was looking up and the other was looking down. I couldn’t see anything,” Turner said.
The test mimicked that of road- side sobriety tests commonly given to drunken drivers.
Preventing underage drinking and drunk driving are two objectives the nonprofit Mothers Against Drunk Driving focus on in an effort to eliminate deadly car crashes. To achieve that end MADD sends representatives to give special presentations, such as “prom promise,” at high schools around prom season when more teens are likely to drink alcohol, said Shalandra Rogers, state youth program specialist with MADD.
A survey conducted in February by State Farm Insurance indicates that teens believe texting while driving is not as dangerous as drunk driving. But the consequences of texting while driving can be as severe as the consequences of drunk driving, according to academic research.
In the survey, 35 percent of the teens questioned agreed that they would one day be killed in a crash if they continued texting and driving. The survey also states 57 percent agreed that drinking and driving would be fatal.
According to the survey, 63 percent of the teens strongly agreed they would get into an accident if they regularly text and drive.
In contrast, 83 percent agreed they would get into an accident if they regularly drink and drive.
While one group of students went through the mock field sobriety test, another group slipped behind the wheel of a golf cart with the goggles on and a deputy at their side. The students had to drive through a set of orange cones with goggles on and cell phone in hand. Their challenge was to make it through the short course while texting and without striking a cone. It was a tough task to complete, the students said.
“Driving was like a blur,” Turner said. “You’re trying not to hit the cones but you’re going to hit one or two.”
From behind the lenses of the red goggles the world is dim and distorted. Depth perception is all but gone. Objects that appear to be out of reach are within striking distance. Cones that appear to be yards from the golf cart are near enough to be hit. Texting made the task doubly difficult, students said.
The experience at Pleasant Valley Thursday, at least in the light of day, resonated with some of the students.
“I hit two cones. I don’t want to hit two kids,” another student, Hunter Green said.
The students who participated in the exercise were drawn from Roe’s classes because all seniors and juniors take it. To drive the message home, a string of sobering words is written in red marker across a whiteboard in her classroom.
They read: “DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE. YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN DIE.”
She and other teachers and administrators want the teens to believe that drunk driving or one quick text can uproot their plans for the future. Roe said she hopes the students hold on to the message through the night.
“Most of them think about it, at least for a couple of days,” Roe said.
Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter@LJohnson_Star.