Drill emphasizes dangers of drinking and driving

Several hundred juniors and seniors at H.L. Bourgeois High School sat somberly on a cement space behind the Houma school last week, staring at the aftermath of a car crash caused by distracted driving. Two classmates were among the wreckage of a head-on collision that left the vehicles smashed beyond repair.

The scene was the opening of a mock crash brought to high schools across the state as part of Sudden Impact Louisiana, a hands-on experience that educates young drivers on the effects of texting, drinking or attempting to multi-task while operating a motor vehicle.

According to the program, unintentional trauma is the leading cause of death among people ages 1 to 44, with motor vehicle crashes ranking first in the mechanisms of the fatal injury. Of the 716 people that died in motor vehicle crashes last year in the state, 42 percent were alcohol related and therefore preventable.

In an effort to change those statistics, the program, now in its 16th year, drops students into some of the most realistic experiences possible in order to get the point across about the hazards of distracted driving. Rather than simply reading from a book or listening to a lecture on safe behind-the-wheel habits, students meet with those men and women that see the impacts each and every day to learn more about what they can do to keep themselves and their passengers safe.

In the classroom, Louisiana State Police offers day-long presentations to students on the laws in place to reduce distracted driving and the ramifications for engaging in such activity. The Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency and family members of victims or those seriously injured in car crashes are also on hand to talk about life after such car crashes.

Students also get a chance to step inside Terrebonne General Medical Center for an up-close look at the trauma and critical care operations of the Houma hospital.

This tour is often eye-opening, Nurse Educator for Critical Care and ER Danielle Duplantis said, and one that really drives home the purpose of the Sudden Impact Louisiana program.

“I feel just being an emergency room nurse for so many years, I’ve witnessed young teens coming in and involved in preventable crashes. That’s the big word is preventable,” Duplantis said. “It’s preventable crashes from either texting and driving or just being distracted, sometimes impaired or even with not wearing their seat belt properly or not wearing it at all. Here in Terrebonne Parish, Lafourche Parish, just this part of the region, we’ve seen a decrease in seatbelt usage in teens. That’s why we’re trying to hopefully impact them where they are able to make better decisions, give them the tools that they need, the information they need, to hopefully make better decisions when they get behind the wheel of the car.”

In addition to the classroom education and tour, juniors also take part and observe a mock crash, such as the one hosted at H.L. Bourgeois High School on Dec. 18. Over a two-hour period, students witness a nine-part scenario involving a drunk driving incident with a passenger that is not restrained and the involvement of local law enforcement, medical and fire personnel in the crash.

Students also witness the family of the victim receiving the death notification of their loved one.

Blaise Lecompte, whose son, Jude, was the victim in the H.L. Bourgeois mock crash, expressed his grief in seeing the potential outcome of distracted driving play out.

“It made me sick,” Lecompte said during a question-and-answer session at the conclusion of the crash. “It’s hard to watch.”

So far, H.L. Bourgeois is the first local school to complete the program this school year. South Terrebonne High School, Ellender Memorial High School, Terrebonne High School and Vandebilt Catholic High School are all set to participate in the coming months.

Next year, as seniors, these students will take part in a mock trial, a follow-up to the crash that involves the drunk driver going before a Terrebonne Parish judge to learn his fate.

Duplantis said that through this program, she hopes to continue seeing an increase in parent participation, an important component that further cements safe driving habits for the next generation.

“There’s actually a parents program that we would potentially like to start next year,” she said. “We would have a parent meeting or a conference where we could get some parent participation. The problem is a lot of these parents don’t know the laws or they are texting and driving themselves. We’re just wanting not only the kids to get this, but the parents to be on board as well.” •

Mock crash