HIGHLAND, Ill. (KMOX) – It was like “Scared Straight: Driver’s Ed Edition” Thursday inside a high school classroom in Highland Illinois.
Students paid rapt attention for more than an hour — a small miracle in itself — as they first watched a taped news story about a texting-related crash that left two Las Vegas girls dead and three others critically injured several years ago.
“The car is in half…it’s been cut in half and the rest of it’s down the street!,” a traumatized teenager who had just witnessed the crash near a high school shrieked to a 911 operator in the video, “My friends are screaming and I can’t help them!”
After that the group heard from Madison County Assistant State’s Attorney Ellen Burford, who walked them through the serious legal ramifications if they’re caught — current Illinois law prohibits drivers under the age of 19 from using a cell phone with or without a hands-free device, and that same age category faces restrictions on their licenses if found guilty of texting and driving.
“So your friends are going to be going to proms and going to football games,” Burford said, trying to hit the teens where they live..their social lives. “You’re going to be either hitching a ride or driven around by your parents.”
Burford made sure the students in Matt Elledge’s driver’s ed class were completely aware that drivers who text are 23 times more likely to be in a car crash.
In addition to civil penalties, drivers can also face charges of reckless homicide in the event of a fatal car crash that occurs as a result of texting and driving.
Among other tidbits tossed out: a five-second-long glance at your phone while travelling at 55 miles per hour means you’ve covered the length of a football field while essentially driving blind.
Also, you’re 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash if you text while driving.
After the often emotionally-grueling course, Highland High sophomore Grant Burke said the message came through loud and clear…he won’t be texting while driving.
“I’ve been in a car with someone who was driving (while texting)”, he said. “But after taking this class I’ll tell them ‘Put the phone away because I don’t want to die!’.”
The course is the brainchild of Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons and is making the rounds at high schools throughout the county — Granite City, Alton, Collinsville, and now Highland.
The next stop is Edwardsville High School on October 16th.
“When more data comes out texting and driving is probably going to be worse than drinking and driving as far as fatalities and the accidents that we have,” said Matt Elledge, the driver’s ed instructor. “And it’s not just the kids but obviously we’ve got to start here.”