ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO – Juniors and seniors in high school are in the middle of prom season, and as part of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, first responders are working to educate high school students about the potentially deadly consequences of impaired and distracted driving.
"The reaction times between drinking and driving or being under the influence of anything and distracted driving are roughly the same," said Chief Jeff Sadtler with West County EMS and Fire.
West County EMS and Fire, the Manchester Police Department, West County Safety House, and SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital teamed up with Parkway South High School students in the Teen Voice for Change group to bring the crash simulation to the students. The vehicles were delivered by McNamara Towing.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), when traveling 55 miles per hour, a car can blindly travel the length of a football field in 4.6 seconds, the average time it takes to read a text message.
After meeting in the auditorium, Sadtler led the students outside where it appeared two cars had crashed. Student and staff volunteers acted as crash victims, while firefighters, paramedics, and police officers demonstrated how they assess a scene and prioritize patients.
As a mother of two, science teacher and volunteer Kim Mitaksov said the exercise hit close to home.
"You walk up and you just see the car that your child drove away in, happy, just minutes or hours before, and then you don't know what your child's fate is when you arrive on the scene," she said. "Then finding out it's every parent's worst nightmare is something that I hope no one ever has to experience."
SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital is one of two level one pediatric trauma centers in St. Louis, according to Trauma Program Manager Joshua Dugal. He said children are brought in daily with traumatic injuries.
"These are some of the worst because it's definitely an injury that can be prevented," said Dugal. "Seeing those parents come in, and seeing their children either severely injured or sometimes, unfortunately, killed is something that really does distress us."
The most recent NHTSA data shows 3,166 people were killed in distracted driving crashes in 2017.
Senior Kayla Cashion hopes the demonstration leaves a lasting impression on her classmates and encourages all drivers to make safer decisions behind the wheel.
"(Some days) you can see just people pulling out of the parking lot in the junior lot or senior lot, they're all on their phones or doing something distracted, messing with the radio, talking with their friends," said Cashion. "Looking around at the faces as I was sitting in the back of the police car, I definitely think it made an impact.”