By John Anderson
Emphasizing good choices has long been a mission at Auburn High School. From simulated motor vehicle crashes and extrications conducted by the Auburn Fire Dept. to guest speakers on related topics, the school has tried to encourage safe, unimpaired, and non-distracted driving.
Last October, Kathi Meyer-Sullivan did two presentations about good teen choices at the school. “Taylor’s Message” is about her 17-year-old daughter who died in 2008 after a night of binge drinking. Kathi’s ability to relate to young people was inspiring, and she started doing school presentations only two months after Taylor’s passing. There were very few dry eyes in the house after she spoke, and her message has hopefully guided many students through the current school year.
With prom tomorrow night, it was appropriate for another lesson, but the message was delivered in two parts, both components of UMassMemorial Medical Center’s Injury Prevention Center.
For three days this week, the Teen D.R.I.V.E. bus has sat in front of the school. 70 students will go through the Distracted Reality and Interactive Virtual Education program using driving simulators. After a practice session, these young drivers experienced impaired (OUI) and distracted (texting) driving.
Funded by Allstate Insurance, the program travels throughout the region to educate young drivers. Instructor Leo Perreault, a retired Sutton Police Sergeant, has been at the helm for the last five years. School Resource Officer Brian Kennedy was on hand as well.
Perrault calmly led the students through the process and did not hesitate to reveal facts about the accident stories pasted on the front wall of the classroom. He told the students, “Value what you’ve got, and that’s your life.”
During one full session, juniors Logan Prindle and Joe Coughlin failed during both challenges, the expected and intended result. Both appeared a bit humbled.
Around 12:45pm, the education moved inside where juniors and seniors gathered for the Teen R.I.D.E. program led by UMASS Pediatric Trauma Surgeon Michael Hirsh. The Reality Intensive Driver Education program has been successful in reducing recidivism in teens with driving offenses.
Hirsh told the audience, “Spending money on injured children is a waste. We can prevent 90% of injuries.” He would rather see funds go to curing pediatric cancer or other illnesses.
He described in graphic detail what it is like in the trauma bay at UMASS, and he told the young audience, “On Saturday night, we will be very busy with people who have made bad choices. I’m on call this Saturday, and I don’t want to see you in my trauma bay.”
Hirsh then turned the microphone over to David Wright who was the driver in an automobile crash in 1994 that took the life of a close friend. Wright broke nearly all the bones on the right side of his body and suffered permanent brain damage. “I know I want to, but I can’t remember being there.”
In words that were hard to understand at times, Wright admitted to the students, “I was a very unresponsible 25-year-old.” He added, “I can’t remember my friend. My friend died in that crash.”
After months in the hospital and rehab, Wright learned of his friend’s death and had to face a judge. He was convicted and sentenced to 2.5 years in the house of correction. Due to his disabilities, he instead served 5 years of probation and the ordered 400 hours of community service.
Dr. Hirsh said Wright is their best volunteer. They constantly ask for his help, and he never turns them down. In the last 20 years, Wright has given thousands upon thousands of hours to get his message across, “It’s not worth being me or anybody like me.”
“Please, Please, Please. Don’t drink and drive.”
Officer Kennedy concluded the program with some sage advice about the prom, the summer, and the future, “Have a great time, but please be responsible.”
It should be noted that all students attending Saturday’s prom must take a chaperoned bus from the high school to Mechanics Hall. This is a very good move on the part of the Auburn Public School District.