Four seniors at Pacelli High School are working on a community service project to provide education to teens and others in the Portage County area about impaired and distracted driving.
Max Lundgren, Katie Olson, Sydney Otis and Courtney Kizewski are trying to raise $10,700 by the end of the year to purchase a portable driving simulator for use in the community.
“There’ve been a lot of things in our community that have been happening recently and we just see it as a big need,” said Olson. “It just felt like if we’re addressing it and we’re high school students, it might make a big impact.”
Olson said the group is motivated in part by their personal experiences including the death in April of Joey Trzebiatowski, a Pacelli alumnus who was one of three young men killed in a single vehicle crash in Linwood where alcohol was a contributing factor. “My brother was really close with him, so I saw the immediate effect of it and how it affected my family and the people around us,” said Olson, who was also a passenger in a two-vehicle crash this June. The driver of the other car, said Olson, was a teen who had been drinking.
The project is part of Destination Imagination (DI) activities at Pacelli. DI is a national nonprofit run locally by volunteers that works to promote creativity and problem solving in youth. At the start of the season, DI teams choose one of seven challenges, typically technical or artistic in nature. For the first time a Pacelli team chose the service learning challenge, which is relatively new to DI. The challenge asked the team to identify a community need, help solve the problem and document the process in a photo documentary. The team will present its documentary at the local DI competition in March 2013.
“Our project this year was to find a community need and then to help fix it; this one (impaired and distracted driving) really stood out to us,” said Otis, who has been involved in DI projects since she was in second grade.
To help confirm the need in this area, the group read the 2012 Portage County Local Indicators for Excellence (LIFE) report and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s 2011-13 Strategic Highway Safety Plan, which identified a need for education to reduce impaired and distracted driving. Research at the State Patrol office in Wausau showed a need locally for an additional driving simulator, since two similar simulators available to the State Patrol are housed in Madison and are not easily portable.
“Not only is this one going to be really nice to use, it’s portable… and it’s easy set-up,” said Lundgren of the simulator the group hopes to be able to purchase. It is called “One Simple Decision” and is manufactured by California-based Virtual Driver Interactive. The device can be operated by one driver or it can be displayed on a screen to use with a large group.
“One of the main reasons we chose it is, not only is it a driving simulator, but it brings you through the consequences of impaired driving – drunk driving or texting while driving,” said Lundgren. “It brings you through being arrested and it takes you through the intensive care part, if you were in a bad accident, and it gives you a court sentencing.”
Materials from Virtual Driver Interactive said research has shown consequence-based simulation to be effective, particularly with younger drivers.
“You can be told it as many times as you want (not to drive impaired or distracted) and it won’t sink in until you have an experience with it,” said Olson. “This (simulator) shows what it’s like to have an experience and go through a car crash with it, but without having to actually do it. So hopefully it will save lives.”
Otis said she used to text and drive frequently. “Ever since we started this project, I try not to even do phone calls because after watching the tutorial on the simulator, it’s just scary to see how quick things can happen,” she said. “I don’t want to take my life or somebody else’s life.”
After deciding what they wanted to do, the group had to figure out how they would accomplish it. The team held a bake sale at Pacelli to get seed money, raising $450 to help set up an account at the Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin and to pay for envelopes and stamps. “We’ve been sending letters out to businesses and different companies trying to ask for money and offer presentations about what we’re going to be doing,” said Olson.
Last week the group gave a presentation to Stevens Point Police Chief Kevin Ruder. “Anything we can do to educate people about the dangers of distracted driving, I think, is a great idea,” said Ruder. “This simulator will be unique to this area… It takes an actual driving experience and shows the person what the consequences are for not focusing on what they’re doing.”
Ruder said school liaison officers have been working to get the word out about a new state law that went into effect Nov. 1 that prohibits cellphone use and texting by drivers on probationary licenses. Police statistics show 28 vehicle crashes in the city in 2012 included either a warnings or citations for inattentive driving. Four of those involved injuries. City police have made 86 arrests for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated so far in 2012.
The Pacelli group also gave a presentation to Clark Pagel, associate dean of Mid-State Technical College’s (MSTC) criminal justice program. Pagel said MSTC community policing strategies students are working on proposals for how the simulator could be used in the community in hopes that it could be housed at MSTC after it is purchased.
“It’s a really exciting project… I think it’s a good fit with our law enforcement program,” said Pagel, who said law enforcement students could use the simulator in the community as part of their coursework. “Real life employment in law enforcement is having officer go out and be proactive in keeping things from happening. It’s a replication of real life law enforcement while providing a valuable community service.”
More information about the simulator is available online at www.driverinteractive.com. To set up a time to have the Pacelli team give its 20-minute presentation on the simulator and its need, contact team manager Becky Otis at 715-923-2116. Pledges of support can also be made to that number. Otis said one pledge has already come in, with Bob Spoerl, senior vice president at General Beer NE, pledging a “generous” amount this week.
People can donate to the project by clicking “Donate Now” on the Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin website (www.cfcwi.org) and finding “One Simple Decision Fund” in the list of established funds; or they can mail checks to “One Simple Decision Fund,” CFCWI, PO Box 968, Stevens Point, WI 54481.