Centerville students learn to think while they drive

Students at Centerville High School participate in a drive simulation to teach them the dangers of distracted driving.

Car crashes account for more than one in three deaths for the teenage population and a big cause of those accidents these days is texting and driving.

Thursday, the Time2Drive program, sponsored by North Side Insurance and Allied Insurance, came to Centerville High School for a two-day safety event. The program aims to teach teens and parents the basic tips that can help save lives on the road.

Thursday's program started with a presentation by Jesse Gildea, who lost the use of his legs in a motocross accident. He now travels to schools across the state, sharing his story.

"Just trying to get that personal, one-on-one reaction with the kids to really let it try to sink in and hit home with them that it could happen to anybody on any day at any time and really just take the precautions to try to greatly reduce your chance of that happening," Gildea said.

Time2Drive is interactive, and after Gildea's presentation, students got to experience first-hand the consequences of impaired and distracted driving.

"We're going to have several activities for the students today, they'll be trying out a driving simulation that simulates any type of distracted driving," said Amy Gonnerman, Manager at North Side Insurance. "Also, we have a fatal vision goggle available where the student will be doing different activities with those goggles on, such as walking the line with the police officer or trying to put a puzzle together to show that impairment affects their body."

One student told KTVO he'd heard the message before, but hearing it again, especially coming from Gildea's first-person story, drilled home the importance of the message.

"You may not think much of it, but it's a lot different, it makes a huge impact," sophomore Noah Coatney said. "I looked down for two seconds and I was already off the road and I about hit someone."

The texting and driving law enacted in Iowa in 2010 helps, but law enforcement says it's still an issue, and definitely something teens should learn about.

"I think today is probably one of the best things you can do," said Officer Gary Buckallew, with the Centerville Police Department. "They'll talk to each other about things and I'm always talking to them about those sort of things, but sometimes hearing it from somebody other than the police department or their parents makes a huge difference, I think."

For Gildea, making just one person think or changing just one accident makes it all worth it.

"To hear them come up and thank you and to tell you that you made an impact on them and knowing that you may have reduced one person from having to live life with the struggles of a traumatic brain or spinal cord injury is very satisfying," he said. "I absolutely love it. We do the whole state of Iowa, so I'm pretty much on the road every day Monday through Friday, and I wouldn't trade my job for anything, I absolutely love it."