What is a backseat bullet? Metro-east students get the point driven home

News-DemocratNovember 7, 2013 

Illinois State Police gave teen drivers information about the importance of driving sober, not texting while driving as well as the importance of wearing a seat belt during a series of presentations Thursday at the Gateway Center in Collinsville.

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Unlike real life, no teenagers were injured while driving distracted during the Metro East Traffic Safety Days.

The event was a promotion of the Illinois State Police and the Illinois Department of Transportation, along with a lot of business and industry sponsors to try and alert teenage drivers to just how dangerous some driving behaviors can be.

It was held in the Gateway Center in Collinsville, beginning Tuesday and concluding Friday, and featured a full day of driving related activities for high school students.

ISP Trooper Calvin Dye, spokesman for District 8, said the program originated in Williamson County six years ago.

"We've always wanted to bring it here," he said. "Very experienced officers will tell you its very hard for us to deal with crashes involving severely injured teens, or fatal crashes, crashes that could have been prevented by putting their seatbelts on or not texting and driving."

In Williamson County, with an admittedly limited sample size, injury accidents among teenagers have seen a sharp decline, he said.

Students from Highland, Triad, Mater Dei, Granite City, Roxana, East St. Louis, Belleville East and Belleville West attended the local sessions, which included lunch.

The primary message was buckle up, don't drink and drive, and don't text and drive.

As groups of students moved between demonstrations, law officers from ISP and St. Clair and Madison counties helped them see what it was like to drive impaired, be in a low-speed collision and drive a tractor-trailer.

A pair of machines provided by State Farm insurance were there to demonstrate what the jolt from a 5 mph crash felt like while wearing a shoulder belt.

Riders were warned that people wearing contact lens needed to close their eyes before the impact.

Andrew Behrmann, 16, a sophomore at Belleville West said he was impressed with his ride.

"I'd be knocked out without that seat belt," he said after he jolted to a stop. "If it was faster, it could have been pretty bad."

Officers also explained the concept of a "backseat bullet." That is what they call a person in the back seat of a vehicle who is not wearing a seat belt during a crash. The result can be several hundred pounds of force flying forward until it hits something in the front seat, like a person.

The term also could apply to a dog, or a backpack or a large stereo speaker.

One presentation was "Street Smart" by members of S.A.F.E., Stay Alive From Education, from Florida firefighters and paramedics about what they have seen in their jobs and how to avoid trouble.

Students also were able to sit in the driver's seat of a big rig to see just how difficult it is to see vehicles around the truck thanks to the loan of two brand new rigs from the Henderson Trucking Co.

Three golf carts provided opportunities to drive with vision impairment, as if drunk, or to drive while texting. Results from both were scary.

Sandy Voytas, an administrative assistant for the ISP, played the part of a pedestrian in the golf cart's path and also occasionally tossed an orange cone across the path to simulate a dog running out into the street.

When drivers drifted off course, she would shake the cart to simulate hitting bushes and trees.

While dealing with those distractions, the drivers also had a law officer as a gabbing passenger providing distractions such as their teenage passengers might do.

Caleb Bertels, 16, a sophomore at Belleville West, said driving with the goggles on was impossible.

Among other mistakes, he crashed into the garage, simulated with orange traffic cones.

"It throws your depth perception off," he said. "It makes you think. I learned a lesson. I won't do that."

That is the hope of everyone who put on the program.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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