Seymour High School participates in driving course

In driver’s education, teenagers learn the basic lessons and responsibilities of how to drive in order to get their driver’s license.

But they don’t learn what it feels like to lose control of a vehicle on a wet or icy road or how difficult it can be to drive while impaired or distracted.

The Seymour Police Department decided students need to know more about the decisions they will have to make when getting behind the wheel.

So the department teamed up with the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute to offer the Rule the Road teen driving program in 2014. More than 50 Seymour High School students participated that first year.

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On Monday, another 50 students got the opportunity to become better drivers by participating in Rule the Road.

The kids rotated through five different stations, learning about the effects of distracted driving, driving under the influence and evasive driving through unique simulations and driving courses set up on a limited-use area of Freeman Municipal Airport.

Students sign up to participate and must have a valid learner’s permit to participate in the activities.

“We had to turn some down this year,” said Capt. Carl Lamb with the Seymour Police Department.

Seymour is the only location in the state that has offered Rule the Road four years in a row, Lamb said. That’s because of its success and the impact it has had in decreasing wrecks involving young drivers, he added.

In the year after the first Rule the Road program in Seymour, Lamb said there was a 33 percent reduction in the number of accidents involving teens. And it has been an 8 to 10 percent drop every year since.

“We realize that this covers a lot of things that driver’s ed doesn’t,” he said. “Drivers ed doesn’t teach the stuff we teach here. They don’t have the time or resources, so we do it this way.”

The program is well-received and supported by the community, he said.

“We get a lot of positive feedback from the kids and parents,” Lamb said. “In August, we had parents calling and asking us when we were going to do Rule the Road this year.”

Senior Kelsey Baker is a member of Seymour High School’s Students Against Destructive Decisions group and said Rule the Road is an opportunity every teenager should have.

“Not only was it beneficial to my driving defense and control skills, it was also a great experience with our local officers,” she said.

Around 15 police officers volunteered their time to help out with the program.

“The officers like to do it, too,” Lamb said. “They enjoy interacting with the kids, and it’s just a fun time, but the kids are taking it serious and are learning quite a bit.”

Representatives from the Indiana SADD organization also took part in Monday’s activities. Brian Sappenfield, state SADD coordinator, spoke to students about Indiana’s graduated driver licensing system, which sets limitations on new drivers before and after they receive their driver’s license.

One of those laws that went into effect last year is no one younger than 21 is allowed to use a cell phone or other handheld electronic device while they are driving.

“Driving is like anything else,” Sappenfield said. “You need to learn in increments and practice certain things before you add on stuff.”

Baker’s favorite experience was getting to drive an old Seymour Police Department Crown Victoria fitted with a special device allowing the driver to drift or skid safely.

“I learned how to be in better control of the wheel,” she said. “I would not have learned better ways to control a vehicle without this program.”

Distracted driving is a problem, but there is an easy solution, she said.

“This program teaches young people to be alert and to avoid distraction,” she said. “I believe that although distracted driving is an epidemic in today’s drivers, individuals may daily choose to set them aside before hitting the road.”

Besides being educational, senior Payton Miskell said Rule the Road was just plain fun. He agreed all drivers should go through the program to be exposed to situations they may face when driving.

At one station, teams of five competed in a challenge on seat belt safety. The students were timed as they rotated seats in a police cruiser, having to fasten their seat belts and wait for each team member to do the same. The students who won the challenge earned gift cards.

Miskell’s favorite stations were those that allowed him to get behind the wheel of a police car and practice instant lane changes and skidding.

“It happens so often that someone will break or turn into your lane and you have to swerve,” he said. “While most will break, it’s actually one of the worst things since it makes you spin out if you turn a little.”

The biggest lesson he learned was to not panic, he said.

“You just need to stay calm and collected when something in a car happens since most people will panic and make the sudden jerk, which causes the car to go off balance,” he said. “Most new drivers don’t get to go fast and actually see what happens if you do a certain move in a car and see the results without being scared of damaging something or hurting someone else.”

Miskell said he feels better prepared to make a decision behind the wheel.

“If you have to make a life-deciding moment within an instant, (Rule the Road) shows you how to make the right one,” he said.

Senior Grace Otte said Rule the Road taught her things she didn’t learn in drivers’ ed, like how to control a vehicle when it gets out of control and the precautions she needs to take when driving.

“My favorite station was probably the one where we drove around cones with drunk goggles on,” she said. “It showed how much alcohol can affect your vision.”

The goggles simulated different levels of blood alcohol content to give students an idea of how impaired their driving would be if they were drunk. Instead of cars, the students drove utility task vehicles and were accompanied by a police officer.

“We haven’t done it every year, but when we passed out the evaluations last year, the kids wanted us to bring back the fatal vision goggles,” Lamb said.

The Seymour Police Department plans to continue to offer Rule the Road every year and hopes to expand it to twice a year, one in the fall and one in the spring.

Lamb said he also would like to open it up to all high schools in Jackson County so more students have the opportunity to participate.