There was the usual smart aleck, wisecracking responses from East Union High’s freshman classes when senior Carolina Gutierrez was making her presentation.
They were too cool to be there. They had to be cool in front of their friends.
But when Gutierrez – also known as Miss Manteca – showed a video that outlined in vivid and gory detail some of the accidents that have been caused by people text messaging while behind the wheel, East Union’s black-box theater fell silent.
It was a telling response from a group of students – most of whom were there during either their health or driver’s education class periods – that grew up with a cell phone in their hand and seem more comfortable cramming a conversation into single syllables than actually talking on their hand-held devices.
“It’s something that’s very important because people that text while driving are 23 times more likely to get into an accident,” Gutierrez said. “I wouldn’t want that to happen to one of my friends, so I think that it’s good that young drivers know before they actually get behind the wheel.”
The presentation, which she ran as a project for Manteca Youth Focus with help from local insurance agent Kim Mello, included not only the video that showed the perils of texting and driving, but also spelled out a local story of a girl from Oakdale that died in an accident.
Amanda Clark had already survived an accident where she rolled her vehicle, Gutierrez told the crowd of students, and the experience led her to believe that since she had already survived one accident that it wouldn’t happen to her again. She lost control while taking a curve and looking at her phone and was killed. Now her parents are using her story as a cautionary tale for young drivers to put their phones away when they climb behind the wheel.
Students got the opportunity to take a pledge that they wouldn’t text while driving and sign a massive banner – donated by Cal Plastics – that will be displayed at the school.
They also got the chance to wear goggles that mimicked what it’s like to be behind the wheel and intoxicated since texting while driving is comparable, police say, to driving while legally drunk because of the lack of focus on the road. Just five seconds of looking away at 55 miles per hour, Gutierrez pointed out, allows a car to travel the length of a football field without the driver paying attention to what is in front of them.
“I’m never going to text and drive,” freshman Kennedy Goodwin said. “I couldn’t see anything with those goggles on. You could definitely see the effects.”
Manteca Police Department School Resource Officer Sean Cavin was on hand to lead the students through the impaired driving exercises and couldn’t say enough about Gutierrez’ undertaking.
Hearing from one of their own about the dangers, he said, might actually get the word across that texting while behind the wheel is deadly.
“It’s promising that the kids are getting it,” Cavin said. “Sometimes hearing it from an adult it doesn’t register, but hearing it from one of their peers is completely different. It’s great that this is something that she has taken on, and it’s a great presentation with a message that needs to get across.”