Madisonville High School senior Kara Derrick and sophomore Carissa Engle were tasked with completing a project for their Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) class and decided to do something that might save lives down the road.
The girls teamed up in October and began planning an all-day assembly for their classmates to educate them on the dangers of driving while intoxicated, texting or otherwise impaired.
Such programs – which include driving simulators, a chance to shoot basketball hoops while wearing “drunk goggles” and field sobriety tests administered by certified law enforcement officers – can cost thousands of dollars, but Derrick and Engle were able to put the program together through the assistance of a grant from Texas Department of Transportation.
The girls also called on the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, the Brazos Valley Injury Prevention Coalition, Safety City Project, Texas Department of Public Safety and SAFE 2 SAVE, among others. Former model Sean Carter, the victim of a traumatic brain injury as the result of a drunk driving accident, served as a guest speaker.
“This was the best group of students we have had – very respectful and polite,” said Mary Jo Prince, program coordinator for Brazos Valley Injury Prevention Coalition and Safety City Project. “We have learned as much from them as they have learned from us … We know that the choices young people make today can impact the choices they make in the future, that’s why we have given this opportunity to the entire school: 166 students.”
Engle said they chose this particular topic with the guidance of their FCCLA sponsor Linda Clinton because they wanted to raise awareness.
“Drinking and drug use is very serious, particularly in this community,” she said.
The girls spent the day on Thursday watching their classmates go through the various drills and said they received a lot of positive feedback.
“We hope to create a very strong impact that alcohol and drugs make things so much worse,” Derrick said. “We tried [driving the simulated vehicle while wearing goggles]. You can’t even function.”
Clinton said she hopes the event made an impact on MHS students, and she expects youth will be more likely to take the information to heart because it was presented by their classmates.
“We did something several years ago and it was not organized by students,” she said. “It makes a bigger impact when it’s peer to peer.”
Cindy Kovar, a program coordinator with Texas A&M AgriLife, pointed out that Nov. 7, 2000, was the last date with no deaths on Texas roadways.
“I have a 15-year old daughter who has never lived a day on this earth where there wasn’t a car accident on a Texas roadway,” Kovar said. “Ninety percent of car crashes are human error. That’s why they are called car crashes and not car accidents because it’s not the accident of the car; it’s a poor choice the person made. Whether that poor choice was drinking and driving, texting and driving or not handing your keys over to someone who was not impaired, you made the conscious decision to do something. You made the choice to speed. You made the choice to drive without your seatbelt; crashes happen because of poor choices.”