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Troopers, emergency personnel talk safety

law enforcement officers, back from left, Trooper Jesse Grabow, Lake Park Officer Travis Carlson, Sgt. Andrew Schmidt, spoke to Lake Park-Audubon students Wednesday about the importance of driving safely, no texting and no drinking and driving. FCCLA members helped perform skits about what not to do in the car. They include, front from left, Chloe Hanson, Maegan Anderson and Rachel Carlson.1 / 2
about 200 lake park-audubon students watched a skit Trooper Andy Schmidt and two students performed, showing how easy it is to get distracted while driving.2 / 2

After watching graphic videos of car crashes due to teens texting, drinking or speeding, a group of Lake Park-Audubon students agreed to sign a No Phone Zone pledge, promising not to make those same mistakes.

The No Phone Zone pledge comes from talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who is dedicating her last year as a host to raising distracted driving awareness.

Students in grade 9-12 gathered in the high school gymnasium Wednesday afternoon to see skits from the FCCLA students, watch videos of crashes and to hear emergency personnel speak on the subject.

"Cell phones are a good idea for in an emergency," Trooper Andy Schmidt told the group of students. "Unfortunately, the definition of that (emergency) has drastically changed."

He said there are so many distractions, even without texting, like someone else in the car, radio station changes, deer and other wildlife and more

"We have a lot of distractions," he said.

One thing he warned students against, especially the girls who seem to do it more, is putting their feet up on the dash when in the passenger seat. It may be relaxing, but if in an accident and the airbag goes off, "you'll be picking your nose with your toe. Literally."

He said being crushed by the airbag often leads to broken ankles, knees and hips.

Schmidt showed the students a short movie -- "Young Forever" -- put out by the Minnesota State Patrol -- that features teens from Minnesota who have been involved in fatal accidents, most of them the cause of the accidents.

"You don't just die in a crash, you're killed, violently," the video starts.

It lists four priorities for teen drivers: pay attention to your driving, obey the speed limit, never drink and drive and always wear a seatbelt.

The FCCLA group also showed two short videos found online that depicted accidents from texting. The movies were graphic, showing firsthand the results of accidents.

FCCLA advisor Cheryl Hogie told students she felt that "if you see factual information, you make better decisions."

Trooper Jesse Grabow, who will be taking over Schmidt's position when he retires next month, said that yes, law enforcement can be a cool job, but it can be a horrible job as well.

"We have to go to those crashes and help people. Sometimes they can't be helped, though," he said somberly.

He added that students should learn from other people's mistakes rather than make their own mistakes.

"What choice are you going to make?" he asked them.

St. Mary's EMS paramedic Brent Kaiser said not only are distracted drivers causing accidents, they are preventing emergency personnel from getting to the scene of an accident quickly.

"People aren't getting out of the way," he said.

For example, he followed a girl who was texting, not watching in her rearview mirrors and didn't even notice the ambulance behind her. Everyone else was pulling over to the side of the road, but because she was more concerned with her texting -- and weaving, he added -- they couldn't get around her.

Pay attention and just think of it being your family member the paramedics are on their way to rescue.

Emergency personnel can legally take down the license plate number of a vehicle that fails to pull over so police can ticket the driver.

Kaiser said his job is a rewarding one, saving lives, but it's also not for everyone with the scenes they can come upon.

"Don't drink and drive. We hate going out on those calls," he said.

Lake Park police officer Travis Carlson also spoke to the students, saying that when school started, his main goal was to get students to use their seatbelts. A recent survey done by the FCCLA students, 93 percent of students wear their seatbelts now.