Grayslake Central High School students received in-depth education about distracted driving dangers as part of a special program that made its first local stop there Wednesday.
Instead of participating in physical education classes, the students rotated through the "Save a Life Tour" sponsored by Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. Speeches, videos and a distracted-driving simulator were among the program's highlights.
Junior Emma Eiserman, 16, was among the students who tried to respond to a text message on a wireless telephone while on the driving simulator in the school's field house. She said the program was valuable and that she expects many of her peers will heed the warning about using mobile devices while driving.
"It just puts a lot in perspective how dangerous texting really is," Eiserman said, "and that it really does take your attention away for a long time, that you don't realize it. You are really putting others at risk of harm, not just yourself, on the road. You really need to turn your phone off and put it down."
Students received a message on how distracted driving is responsible for 5,500 deaths and 448,000 injuries on U.S. roadways annually. Dialing while driving boosts the risk of a crash or close call more than any other distraction, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study published this month.
Northwestern Lake Forest registered nurse Brigette Harrison, a trauma coordinator, has seen the result of distracted driving on her job. She said it's not just teenagers who should realize the perils of not being fully focused behind the wheel.
"It happens," Harrison said. "And I think everybody, including myself, is guilty at one time or another of being distracted. ... This is the new drunken driving."
Michigan-based Kramer Entertainment Inc. was hired by the hospital for its multimedia "Save a Life Tour." The company typically spends eight hours at a high school and begins the program with a graphic video of a distracted driving crash re-enactment and what follows, such as police response and hospital emergency room responses.
Jonathan Saigeon, who survived a serious wreck when a friend fell asleep while driving in 2004, operated one of the simulators at Grayslake Central. He said he's found the teenagers have taken seriously the technology that mimics changing road conditions, speed limits and traffic as they try to handle texting behind the wheel.
Grayslake Central driver's education coordinator Bethany Russ said she hopes the students who went through Wednesday's program spread the message about distracted driving.
"I think it's been a really good opportunity for the students and even faculty that have stopped by to see the dangers of distracted driving," Russ said. "Technology is such a big part of our world today and many people don't realize how much it can take your eyes off the road, or even just your mind, from what you're supposed to be doing."
Other suburban high schools scheduled on the "Save a Life Tour" are North Chicago on Friday, Jan. 24, Lake Forest on April 7 and Libertyville on May 16.