Roberts and Joliet High School Students learn the impact of distracted driving

Photo by Lizzie Blumenthal Students wear impairment goggles and try to catch a ball, to simulate the affects of alcohol for distracted driving event.

To emphasize the importance of focused and responsible driving, especially for teen drivers, the “It’s your Choice” took its campaign to Joliet. On April 22, Roberts and Joliet High School students were presented with scenarios about the many ways drivers can get distracted and the heavy impact such poor decisions can have. Five representatives from various organizations told their perspectives on how driving under the influence or distracted driving has affected their lives and the lives of others in hopes to encourage students to make responsible choices. Judy Christensen, Carbon County DUI Task Force Coordinator addressed underage drinking and possible affects and consequences. She presented a scenario, typical to what teens may face, that ultimately led to tragedy and death of a sibling. She advised students, “Do not drink until you are 21, drink responsibly when you are of age and never drink and drive. Remember it is your choice.” Because Montana road conditions are not always the safest, and trauma centers are not always conveniently located, Dr. Billy Oley, Director of Beartooth Billings Clinic Trauma Medical Center, noted the importance of staying focused while driving. “You have to think about the road challenges such as snow, ice, and single-lane highways. Distracted driving doesn’t have to happen,” Oley said. Although Highway Patrol Troopers carry guns and protection, Bill Bullock, Montana Highway Patrol Trooper, explained patrolmen are still not impervious to drunk or distracted drivers as he discussed the deaths of patrolmen who were in collisions with such. “These are choices you can make individually. The choices you make are going to follow you forever. Next time you get a text, think about what’s important to you. It’s life changing for you and for us as well,” Bullock stated. For students to hear a first hand account of an accident survivor, Angela Newell explained her tragedy. Newell thought she was going to have a great night with her friends as they were driving back from Billings, but that same night changed her entire life. Four years ago she and three others were involved in a fatal accident. Newell and one other survived with tremendous injury, but Newell said not a day goes by she doesn’t think about her friends who died that night from distracted driving. “It’s been nine years and I still can’t make sense of it. I have to ask wonder if I was a bad passenger and if that’s the reason my friends are dead. That accident changed my entire world,” Newell said. Tara Schwend, whose son Stetson was hit by a drunk driver told her story and hopes that no family and community has to experience the hardships her family has endured. “The choice he made to drink and drive affected so many of our lives today,” Schwend said. At the end of the “It’s Your Choice” presentation, there is a simulated accident involving students, designed to show what happens as a result of distracted driving but due to poor weather, that portion was cancelled.