PINELLAS PARK, Fla. — Summer Break for Tampa Bay students is just over a month away. It means more teens will be on the road, which could increase the potential for distracted driving crashes. Yet, local officers are on a mission to show the youngest drivers in our community that taking their eyes off the road for a single second can be dangerous.
Pinellas Park Police Officers spent the afternoon Wednesday at Pace Center for Girls in Pinellas County. Pace received a grant from State Farm Insurance allowing them to add safety courses with officers at all their school campuses across Florida.
The officers spent time demonstrating how they use canines to apprehend suspects, horses to patrol neighborhoods and focused a large portion of their time showing students the dangers of distracted and impaired driving.
17-year-old Kiya told ABC Action News she is counting down the days until she gets her driver’s license. “I’m so ready for it!” she exclaimed while adding that she knows it is a big responsibility.
She’s committed to putting her phone on do not disturb when she’s behind the wheel.
“What I see in my head is a picture of my phone and it says death is calling do not answer because it doesn’t matter if you get a text from your mom, your boyfriend or anyone. If you are driving and you answer that text, any second something could go wrong,” she elaborated.
Pinellas Park Police Officers are on a mission to make sure more teenagers follow her lead.
Corporal Lawrence Kolbicka said the worst part of his job is responding to fatal accident scenes and then having to inform that person’s loved ones.
“One moment that someone pulls out in front of you, or stops short or the pedestrian crosses and you’re distracted, could change your life,” he said.
The National Traffic Safety Administration said distracted driving kills 3,000 people every year and young adults are 400% more likely to get into a distracted driving crash.
Officers said distracted driving can be just as dangerous as driving impaired, so part of their safety course at PACE allowed the students to try out “fatal vision” goggles and attempt to walk heel to toe in a straight line.
Heidi Hugh, the development manager at Pace Center for Girls in Pinellas County said the partnership between their schools, State Farm and local police departments is essential.
“I think it’s really important for our girls to hear about this from somebody besides just us or their parents and from the community who cares about them and to hear it from those like the Pinellas Park Police Department Officers who see this every day. They see the risks and consequences of these distractions,” Hugh added.
With more distractions than ever in the palm of our hand, officers stress it’s a responsibility we all bear to stay alert behind the wheel.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Officers stress that distracted driving extends beyond just texting and talking on the phone, to eating, drinking, fiddling with music, putting on makeup and other activities.
A citation for distracted driving in Florida can cost drivers $116 for a first offense, according to Corporal Kolbicka.