A Fire Chief on a Mission
True or false. Car crashes are the number one cause of death for teen drivers? It’s true. In 2014, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, there were 77,399 vehicle crashes in Texas involving teen drivers.
A Texas Fire Chief has seen this reality up close and personal.
“Every firefighter dreads responding to vehicle crashes involving teens. What a senseless feeling it is to witness death or severe injury that will change that young person’s life forever!” The Woodlands Township Chief Alan Benson said. “Anything public safety can do to decrease vehicle crashes would be a win-win-win for teens, families, and our community.”
So, Chief Benson set about on a mission to save teen drivers’ lives.
To reduce distracted-driving, Chief Benson partnered with the Montgomery County Emergency Communication District. Together, they asked State Farm to help them establish a new program to provide teens with a hands-on experience in a controlled environment. A grant from State Farm would allow the purchase of three pedal karts and a trailer to store and transport them to local high schools and community events.
“With motor vehicle crashes being the leading cause of death for teens in Texas and the United States, I was happy to work with Chief Benson to find a way to impact those numbers,” shared Brent Wroten, a resident of The Woodlands and a State Farm Vice President of Agency. “State Farm has a history of caring and partnering with organizations to encourage safe driving. If this pedal kart experience can save one teenager’s life, it will be worth all of our efforts.”
Each teen gets two turns on the pedal karts, while trying to navigate an orange-coned circuit. First, they get to drive without any distractions or impairments. Then they drive while texting or wearing goggles that simulate blurred vision associated with being drunk or drugged. This experience changes their perceptions of how dangerous it truly is to drive wile distracted or under the influence.
Since November 2015, hundreds of local teens used and learned from the pedal karts. Dakota Richards, a 15 year old sophomore at Willis High School, is one of those students. Dakota who was thrilled to be one of the first to drive the kart shared, “The experience was really cool and I plan to talk with my teacher about arranging to bring it to my high school in the spring so other students can benefit.”
Chief Benson, who jokingly test drove one of the karts at the unveiling, is pleased that for years to come, the karts will build awareness with teens about the importance of driving undistracted and unimpaired.