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West Shamokin students learn dangers of distracted driving

| Wednesday, May 2, 2012, 11:36 p.m.

COWANSHANNOCK -- Kevin Kaplon, a junior at West Shamokin High School, learned about the dangers of driving while impaired.

But Kaplon didn't break any laws or hurt anyone while learning his lesson. It was all part of the West Shamokin Safe Driving Awareness Day for grades 10 through 12. The event was held on the school grounds throughout the day on Wednesday.

During the event, Kaplon headed over to the Army National Guard booth where he got the chance to drive a go-kart while wearing goggles which simulated a drunk driver's reaction time. He said he had fun and learned a lot from the experience.

Dave Powers, West Shamokin High School driver's education instructor, said it was the first time the school had such a large scale driver safety program. National, regional and local organizations collaborated in an effort to cut down on traffic-related fatalities.

According to Powers, the school received a $2,000 grant from the Armstrong School District Foundation and $500 from money raised by the school's SADD club (Students Against Destructive Decisions). Because of that combined $2,500, the school was able to invite members from the Michigan-based Peer Awareness group to attend. The group brought a simulation vehicle for students to try.

While sitting in the driver's seat, each student got a chance to try the Peer Awareness DUI simulation and the texting and driving simulation. During the exercise, participants wore a head-mounted display that was hooked up to sensors in the steering wheel, brake and gas pedals.

Taylor Hawkins, a senior, tried out the DUI simulation.

"It feels like you can't really control anything," she said.

When sophomore student Tori Lowry tried to text and drive using the simulation, she said she had not realized how distracting it was.

"You don't realize how much time you're giving to texting," she said.

Six groups of 30 to 35 students rotated every 45 minutes between various stations.

Shawn Houck, safety officer with PennDOT District 10, supervised one station where five students at a time rushed in and out of a car, laughing and buckling up seat belts in a timed competition.

Houck said the seat belt challenge was a fun way to use repetition in order to reinforce the act of buckling up.

Bevi Powell, of Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Highway Safety Center, coordinated a simulation station which allowed students to use their phones to text while attempting to play a Mario Kart Wii game. She also provided impairment goggles to students who were attempting to throw a ball or ride a scooter board.

"It shows them how their coordination and depth perception is skewed when they're impaired," said Powell.

Armstrong School District board member Stan Berdell and Principal Kirk Lorigan visited the various stations while students participated in the simulations.

Berdell said he thought it was something that should be at every school.

"If this makes one kid think before something goes wrong, it's worth it," said Berdell.

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