Darien High's SADD raises awareness of distracted driving dangers

A crashed car, a rollover simulator and the chance to experience a minor accident made up just a selection of the safety fair at Darien High School.

As part of an effort to draw more awareness to the dangers of distracted driving, Students Against Destructive Decisions hosted the first safety fair at DHS. With the help of local and state police, students witnessed firsthand what could happen if they don't drive responsibly.

Libby Bora, one of SADD's presidents, said the point of the safety fair was to make students realize how dangerous it is to drink and drive or text and drive.

"Texting and driving is an issue today and we wanted to do something interesting that would have an impact on the students," Bora said. "We want to get kids to slow down and be more careful when they're driving."

Depot Program Director Janice Marzano said with prom only days away it was a good opportunity to show students what can happen if they don't drive more responsibly.

"[The DHS chapter of] SADD is only two-and-a-half years old and we want to bring awareness to what happens if you don't drive responsibly," Marzano said.

To help raise more awareness about SADD, Marzano said the town would soon be blanketed with information asking residents to vote for SADD as part of the Act Out Loud 2011 initiative. If enough people vote for SADD, the group could receive $10,000 to help pay for events such as the safety fair.

"It costs money to do all of this," Marzano said, pointing to the different simulators and tables that were set up.

Sen. Bob Duff, D-25, stopped by the high school briefly to talk to students and he said he remembered the rollover simulator from his days in high school.

"I used to think you only needed to wear a seatbelt when you were going on longer road trips, but the police told me most accidents happen locally within 10 miles of where you live," Duff said. "It was a real wake-up call for me."

Detective Mark Cappelli said hosting events like the safety fair were very important because most kids won't respond to lectures alone.

"Teenagers tend to think they're invincible and nothing bad can ever happen to them," Cappelli said. "Now they can see what happens when they are texting and driving or not wearing their seatbelts. Seeing it means so much more than just lecturing because it falls on deaf ears."

One of the biggest draws at the fair was The Convincer, which simulates an accident at 5 mph. A person is strapped into a seat which slides down the length of the machine before it comes to an abrupt stop as if they struck an object. The purpose of the simulation was to give students an idea of how much it could hurt to hit something going slowly and then imagine what it would be like if they were in an accident at a higher speed.

State Trooper Chris Davis, who was operating the rollover simulator, said he travels around to many different venues to exhibit what can happen when people who don't pay attention while driving.

"This rollover machine shows what would happen if you don't have a seatbelt on," Davis said. "It always ejects passengers without seatbelts. It's pretty shocking."

Although schools are popular areas to showcase poor driving decisions, Davis said the state police have been contacted to set up their exhibit for corporations as well.

"We go wherever people want us and it's funny to see people who rode in The Convincer years ago and come up and say they never forgot the experience," Davis said.

Students also pledged to be better drivers by putting their thumb print on a poster. The pledges were being handled by a group of students who are a part of Safe Rides, a program that offers rides to students on Fridays and Saturdays who aren't able to drive themselves and are uncomfortable getting a cab.

Safe Rides member Sophie Watters said during the safety fair, many students took a pledge to drive more responsibly.

"People will see this table and it will have an effect on them and they will pledge," Watters said.

Parker Schram, another Safe Ride member, said many students approached the table because they are curious and end up taking the pledge to drive more responsibly.

The safety fair ran from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the courtyard at the high school.