The coroner tied a tag to my toe, before asking the firefighters to help her lift me into the body bag. I stayed still, hoping the audience could not see me breathing. Doubtless, this was an odd situation for anyone, but even more strange is that I was in this body bag with my parents’ and school’s permission.
I had just finished the live simulation of a drunk driving car crash in front of the entire student body. My high school had partnered with the organization Every 15 Minutes to educate and shock the students about the dangers and consequences of distracted driving. I had volunteered myself to participate in the simulation and act as the Dead on Arrival victim. This meant that I was to lay “dead” on the hood of a car until the coroner removed me from the site.
Over the next two days, I would experience a whirlwind of emotions I have never interacted with before. Immediately after the accident simulation, I was taken to the morgue, where my parents identified my body. Although they knew it was fake, they still were moved to tears and I immediately felt guilty. I never wanted anyone in my family to mourn my death because of a decision I made while driving.
That night, myself and the group of other 20 “Living Dead” students who participated in the simulation were taken to a retreat. We had no electronics, so we could not communicate with any of our family or friends. This was to recreate for ourselves and our family what really would happen if we lost our lives in an accident. That night, we relayed stories regarding drunk driving and listened to guest speakers mournfully share their experiences with family members they had lost. It was an emotional night that left me angry and confused at decisions others in my school and community had made.
The next morning, we were taken back to our school. Everyone had assembled in the gym. Our group, dressed in black, followed a bagpiper and a casket solemnly into the gym. This was our funeral. Our family members sat on the sides and the student body, usually disrespectful during announcements, was silent. They realized the seriousness of the situation.
It was then that guest speakers rose to the stage to give speeches. Many were family members of the “Living Dead”, sharing their experiences of the worst moment of their lives – the day the police arrived to tell them their child had died in a drunk driving accident.
My father spoke that day. I had never seen my father cry before, but he stood behind the pedestal and broke down before 2,000 people. It was the most vulnerable image I have of him, and I never want for him to experience that heartbreak again.
I am the only one in control of my actions behind the wheel. Distracted driving does not only mean drunk driving. It is any action that takes a person’s concentration away from the road, from texting to changing the music. Yet these seemingly harmless tasks could lead to a life- changing mistake.
According to the organization, Teen Safe1, a teen’s risk for being involved in a car accident increases 400% when they text while driving. This explains why teen drivers are the most common age group to cause a distracted driving accident and why the number one killer of teenagers is automobile crashes2.
Programs like Every 15 Minutes3 in California, whose name was derived from the fact that a person was involved in a drunk driving crash every 15 minutes, have managed to change that number to every 50 minutes. Deterrents such as fines for texting and driving, such as a $10,000 fine in Alaska, have aided the decline in these car accidents4.
Although this progress is promising, there is still so much left to do. Awareness and prevention laws and programs need to continue working in order to ensure that teenagers like myself do not end up in body bags due to preventable distracted driving.