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Driver's education class stresses text-and-drive dangers


Courtney Fletcher

Clara Kokjer, left, and Emma Ramsey participate in a exercise demonstrating what happens when you drop your phone while driving. They're part of a driver's education class at WNCC this week.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 15 to 20 year olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The lack of driving experience is a main factor to the high crash rate among teens. By participating in a driver's education class local students are taking steps in learning about the do's and don'ts of the road.

At the Western Nebraska Community College campus in Sidney, driver's education instructor Mary Weich is teaching several local students proper driving techniques this week as well as dangers of the road and distractions that can easily be prevented.

Speakers including WNCC's CDL educator Kurt Tremain and local law enforcement gave presentations about road safety and how to decrease risks of vehicle accidents.

"What we are trying to teach the kids is how you shouldn't follow too closely to semi-trucks, where they can and can't be seen from the truck and how much stopping distance the truck needs versus regular cars," Tremain said. "We will have the kids get up in the truck and see the different perspectives they have from the car to the truck."

According to Tremain, it's up to the driver of the car to keep a safe distance from a semi-truck in order for the truck to have enough distance to stop and be aware of blind spots.

Unlike the hydraulic brakes on small vehicles, trucks have air brakes that require more time to make sudden stops. When driving behind a truck, being able to see the rearview mirrors of the truck allows the driver of the larger vehicle to see other automobiles behind or beside them.

A major topic throughout the entirety of class has been recognizing distractions behind the wheel such as texting and driving and taking steps to prevent it.

"It's incredibly hard to get through to these kids to stop texting and driving," Tremain said. "Somehow or another we've got to. Texting and driving has become more dangerous than drinking and driving for these kids. None of these young kids have a beer in their hand while driving, but I guarantee every one of them has a phone."

According to the Nebraska Driver's Manual, sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent – at 55 mph – of driving the length of an entire football field blind.

"Parents really need to set a good example when they're driving as well," Weich said. "I'm a parent also, so it's really important that the parents need to be role models. Whether it's texting and driving or any other distraction, the kids are going to see that and model that behavior when they finally get behind the wheel."

Other distractions that were noted include: eating, reading, removing clothing, picking up something from the floor board, applying makeup, drinking, smoking and changing the music.

Courtney Fletcher

Local students enrolled in driver's education were able to get behind the wheel of a semi-truck to get a different view of the road compared to a small vehicle.

Wiech said she travels across the state teaching driver's education and students always seem glad to be there because they are excited about getting their license.

"One thing I've learned in class is how to park a little bit better," said Jordan Cook. "Also, being more attentive while driving around."

WNCC offers five driver's ed courses per year, one in each area including Bayard, Bridgeport, Harrisburg, Kimball and Sidney.

"To participate, a student must have their learner's permit before they can start class, so the age varies because Nebraska has school permits that allows that students that live in rural areas to get their permits sooner," said WNCC's Workforce Development Specialist Linda Roelle. "We are licensed to teach students up to the age of 17, therefore we can not teach adult drivers under our certificate."


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