Students at Gallatin High School got an up-close look at the dangers of distracted driving last week. 

The school’s 11-member Criminal Justice Club conducted a mock crash on Oct. 23 to show the student body the effects unsafe driving behaviors like cell phone use, drunk driving and not wearing a seatbelt can have. 

“It’s extremely powerful and I hope that everyone takes it that way,” GHS senior and Criminal Justice Club President Jacqueline Stone said about the program. “It’s serious. This stuff does happen, and I want everyone to know that.

“To think that I could actually be responsible for something like this is definitely emotional.”

As part of the mock crash, students heard a pre-recorded 911 call that was followed by first responders arriving on the scene of the two-vehicle crash that was caused by a student texting and driving while on their way to a Friday night football game.  

Agencies that participated in the scenario included the Gallatin police and fire departments as well as the Sumner County Emergency Medical Services, Sumner County Sheriff’s Office, Sumner County Emergency Management Agency and Vanderbilt LifeFlight.

“We don’t want any of our students to ever be in a crash as a result of distracted driving,” GHS Criminal Justice teacher Scott Pascarella said. “If we can promote this and at least affect a number of students then we’ve accomplished our goal.”

Gallatin High School is also one of 15 schools in Tennessee that are participating in the Be in the Zone (BITZ) campaign with the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. The teen motor vehicle safety program aims to prevent injury and save lives by increasing knowledge about the dangers of distracted driving while offering cash prizes as part of the competition.

Between 2015 and 2017, Tennessee was found to have the highest rate of distracted driving fatalities in the United States, according to a recent study conducted by ValuePenguin. 

In 2018, there were 24,686 distracted driver traffic crashes statewide – an 89 percent increase when compared to 2009, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. Of those crashes, 606 occurred in Sumner County.

“We’re seeing distracted driving a lot,” Sumner County Emergency Management Agency Director Ken Weidner said about the ongoing problem. “People think they can multitask, but they really can’t.”

In an effort to reduce the number of distracted driving crashes in Tennessee, a new state law took effect July 1 that makes it illegal for anyone to hold or reach for a cellphone or mobile device or send or read any text-based communication while driving. 

Stone, who admitted to texting while driving in the past, said she now puts her phone down when she is behind the wheel because of what she has learned by participating in the BITZ campaign. She hopes her classmates and others do the same.

“They need to realize this is a real-life thing,” Stone said. “If they do this, they are putting their life at risk and someone else’s life at risk and it’s something that needs to be changed.”

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