Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
Seen from the flat black eyes of two crash-test dummies, the Irving AAA Teen Driver Safety Fair was a chaotic experience. Unsettling. in-your-face and on-your-head.
Fortunately for Ryan Etherington and Ryan Sarosy, sophomores at Irving High School, they were only dressed up like crash-test dummies. It was a pair of bona fide stunt dummies that rode the queasy crash simulator, or “rollover convincer” as AAA termed it, during the Fair at Lively Pointe Park on Oct. 13.
“We’re demonstrating what would happen when the car rolls over and passengers are wearing their seat belts versus when they’re not,” said Kara Thorp with AAA as she gestured to the dummies half-tumbled out of the convincer. “It’s a pretty stark contrast.
“A lot of people have all kinds of excuses for not wearing their seatbelts, from ‘it’s uncomfortable’ to ‘I’m just going down the street’,” said Thorp. “Statistics say that a majority of accidents happen when you’re close to home.”
AAA spokesperson Doug Shupe added that young people in particular can feel immune from the consequences of their driving behaviors.
“We want to particularly impress on them the dangers of distracted driving,” said Shupe. “Of speeding. Of not wearing their seat belts.
“They’re young and they’re inexperienced. They’re busy on the phone and don’t understand that two seconds of inattention can double their chances of getting into a crash. They don’t realize how easily something bad could happen to them.”
The City of Irving collaborated with AAA to provide handouts, displays and video resources to drive home the point. For most of the 100 or so visitors to the Fair, a visit to the video room to watch ‘The Last Text’ was particularly sobering. AT&T provided the powerful images of the words being texted by teens as their cars went out of control. These were often quite literally the last words of the crash victims.
“Every day, crashes end more teen lives than cancer, homicide and suicide combined,” said Shupe.
Irving’s Mayor Pro Tem Gerald Faris was on hand for the Fair, while also absorbing information on behalf of his teen daughter.
“Sydney just got her driver’s license in July,” said Faris.
The junior at Irving High has good driving habits, he said, but he wonders if kids are truly equipped for all the challenges they’ll face on the road.
“As we were teaching her how to drive, I realized that what we’re teaching her is a survival skill. How to get from point A to point B in this car. We’ve protected our kids so much – it’s an instinct, really – but so few kids ride bikes or walk to school, and they don’t have that experience of getting around in the world. That’s part of my concern: she has the mechanics, but someday she’ll have to judge and merge and watch all those signs. I want her to be able to get back home safely.”
Also concerned were Pria Santosa and his daughter Christina. Both cringed as they watched the rollover convincer. Christina, 15, is a sophomore at Frisco Liberty – and her father’s oldest child.
“She’s not driving yet,” said Pria, “but we thought it might be a good idea to come over here and start learning more about it. This was a good start.” They’ve also signed up for a AAA program called ‘Dare to Prepare’, offered to young people as they are on the threshold of getting a driver’s permit.
“She is quite responsible, but I think about making her more aware of what the different rules are,” added Pria.
As ‘Teen Driver Week’ gets underway, Ray Cerda of Irving’s Parks and Recreation Department hoped that the Fair would equip kids and their parents on how to stay safe as they drove.
“This is our first time working with AAA,” Cerda said. “I’m glad to help provide activities like this for our teens.
“It’s a great partnership, and we’ll keep it up.”