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West Hartford Students Make ‘Safe Driving’ Pledge

Conard High School students take pledge to 'Save a Life'.' Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Students at West Hartford’s Conard High School particpated in the ‘Save a Life’ program, and Hall High School students will receive the same training on Friday.

Conard senior Jordan Fongemie attempts to stay on the road while texting in a distracted driving simulation. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard senior Jordan Fongemie attempts to stay on the road while texting in a distracted driving simulation. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

Conard Principal Julio Duarte told juniors and seniors Tuesday morning that he wants them to think, and make smart choices when they get behind the wheel of a car or engage in any other potentially unsafe behavior.

As prom and graduation season approaches, administrators at both of West Hartford’s public high schools are reinforcing the message that students have likely heard already already but can never be repeated too many times: stop and think before engaging in unsafe behavior that could have a long-lasting impact on your life and the lives of your families and friends.

On Tuesday, Conard’s junior and senior classes participated in the “Save a Life Tour” – a distracted driving program sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Students watched portions of the documentary “From One Second to the Next,” and then had the opportunity to “test” themselves texting while driving on simulators. Hall will participate in the same program on Friday.

Although the simulators focused on distracted driving, the message also included drunk driving.

“What I’m talking about here is choice,” Clay Martin from the Save a Life Tour told the Conard students. The students listened intently as he told them that they are making a decision – to pick up the phone to text, or not to call for a ride when they have been drinking – that can have a life-altering impact so many people.

The documentary, while not visibly graphic, provided a window into the lives of three families that were devastated by the “choices” of distracted drivers. The students were completely silent, watching intently as the stories were told of a young boy who was paralyzed from the diaphragm down by a driver who ran a stop sign while texting, a young man who was texting his wife to tell her that he loved her as he hit and killed several members of an Amish family riding in a buggy he never even saw, and a woman who traveled the world for her job but after being struck by a teenager texting and driving lost all her short-term memory and could no longer leave her house alone.

“Every single one was a choice those drivers made – a decision,” Martin said. And the statistics about distracted driving – that 3,154 people were killed and 424,000 injured last year by distracted drivers – are low because police don’t always have the ability to check cellphone records after a crash, he said.

People may complain about getting a ticket for distracted driving. “If you get a ticket you have a fantastic second chance,” Martin said.

Deciding to drive drunk is also a choice – a decision that becomes a habit after nothing happens the first time, said Martin. The average drunk driver who is caught has driven drunk 324 times, Martin told the students. “You can start an entirely different habit by making a choice.”

After the presentation at Conard the students were given the opportunity to test out the simulators, and were also encouraged to sign a safe driving pledge that will be kept on display at the school.

“It wasn’t just the the video, it was the speaking as well,” senior Avery Sherrill said as she signed the pledge. She said she would have signed it anyway, but the presentation made her definitely think more about distracted driving.

Duarte tested out the simulator first, and after he crashed while texting, said it was “really tough.”

Senior Jordan Fongemie made it through the 3-minute simulation without crashing, although he went off the road several times. “I’ve memorized the keyboard. It’s not something I’m proud of,” he said. Fongemie has had his license for about nine months and even though he made it through the simulation he said, “I realize I am 100 percent more distracted than I think I am.”

Conard Assistant Principal Keats Jarmon said she was looking for a follow-up to the DUI program that the West Hartford Police brought to Conard last year when she found the Save a Life Tour. The program was available to both West Hartford high schools free of charge.

“It’s important to do something annually to remind students,” she said. The spring, when it’s getting close to prom, and when more juniors are getting their licenses, is an ideal time for the reminder. Jarmon said that about 700 students – the entire junior and senior class – were involved in the program. One parent of a sophomore asked that her son be included as well since he had just gotten his permit.

“If it affects on student’s decision-making it’s worth the time and effort to put it on,” she said of the program.

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Conard High School students take pledge to 'Save a Life'.' Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard High School students take pledge to ‘Save a Life’.’ Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard Principal Julio Duarte speaks to juniors and seniors before the Save a Life Tour presentation. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard Principal Julio Duarte speaks to juniors and seniors before the Save a Life Tour presentation. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Distracted driving simulators are a key component of the Save a Life Tour. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Distracted driving simulators are a key component of the Save a Life Tour. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Principal Julio Duarte 'crashes' while texting during the simulation. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Principal Julio Duarte ‘crashes’ while texting during the simulation. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Junior Monet Carter (right) said she doesn't have her license yet but wanted to learn how it feels to text and drive. She and junior Michelle Pettigrew (left) both signed the safe driving pledge. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Junior Monet Carter (right) said she doesn’t have her license yet but wanted to learn how it feels to text and drive. She and junior Michelle Pettigrew (left) both signed the safe driving pledge. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Students line up to try out the distracted driving simulator. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Students line up to try out the distracted driving simulator at Conard. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The safe driving pledge was quickly filled with signatures of students who participated in the Save a Life Tour. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The safe driving pledge was quickly filled with signatures of students who participated in the Save a Life Tour. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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