EPISD Police Services and the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) have teamed up to curb distracted driving among students through hands-on presentations and strengthened traffic enforcement around schools.
The campaign was made possible through the TXDOT Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) comprehensive grant and focuses on slowing speeders in school zones, encouraging seatbelt use, ensuring child passengers wear safety seats properly, intersection control and curtailing distracted driving.
“We want to educate students about the dangers of texting and driving or drinking and driving,” said TXDOT traffic safety specialist Monica O’Kane. “If we teach them early they have a better chance of not participating in these behaviors.”
Officers used teaching tools such as the Fatal Vision Alcohol Impairment Simulation or beer goggles to demonstrate how driving intoxicated feels. Students tried throwing and catching a tennis ball while wearing the glasses – something that normally does not require intense concentration. Most failed miserably.
El Paso High freshman Amber Porras lost her coordination and felt dizziness while wearing the goggles.
Officer Phillip Deal saw how the program opened the lines of conversation between the officers and students.
“Visual impairment is just one of the things that happens when you drink and drive,” Deal said. “We want the students to realize that alcohol also affects their mental state. If you are under the influence you are not making wise choices.”
Student Jonathan Renken did not like the way the goggles made him feel.
“The goggles made me feel dizzy and disoriented. It was a good experience to show us why drinking and driving is dangerous,” Renken said. “It’s a good way to prevent us from doing things that will hurt us.”
The students also learned that texting and driving is just as dangerous as driving under the influence.
Students are not the only ones that need to focus on driver safety. Parents should be role models displaying proper driving behavior.
“As parents we need to be the example,” O’Kane said. “They are watching to see what we are doing, and if parents are texting they are going to think it’s okay for them to text and drive, too.”
The students were receptive to the officers, crowding a table at El Paso High eager to try the goggles and talk to them about driving distractions.
“It’s amazing the kind of feedback we get from the kids,” Deal said. “They have a newfound awareness for what’s going on, and they really appreciate that we take the time to come out and educate them.”