In Bellmore-Merrick, summer safety day a success at Kennedy High School


John F. Kennedy High School students are ready to hit the road as the academic year ends — and the Students Against Destructive Decisions club aims to make sure they start the summer knowing how to drive safely.

SADD and the Bellmore-Merrick Community Parent Center, a nonprofit based in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District headquarters, organized a day of experiential learning to promote safe driving practices for about 150 students in their health classes on May 31.

Safety education is important, the organizers said, because driving can be a matter of life or death, especially as school ends and young people find themselves with more free time.

“We just entered what’s known as the 100 deadliest days,” Wendy Tepfer, director of the Community Parent Center, said. “It’s a time from Memorial Day to Labor Day, when the number of teen driving fatalities and injuries spike dramatically. So this is the perfect time to remind them just to be aware and be careful. The reality is, if we save one life, then we’ve done our job.”

High school-age drivers are at higher-than-average risk for car accidents, Tepfer said, because they’re the newest and least experienced drivers on the road. Distractions such as cellphones and speeding increase the risk.

“Unfortunately, motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of injury and death for teens today, and the risk is highest for the high school age group — that 16- to 19-year-old group,” Tepfer added, “and what we know statistically is that kids, teenagers, have the lowest rate of seat belt use of any age group today.”

To understand the dangers of unsafe driving, students took part in experiential learning activities during the event.

“We like doing this because we’re raising awareness,” Tepfer said. “It’s a healthy, safe, fun way for them to learn what’s going on.”

To evoke the challenges of being under the influence of alcohol, students wore impairment goggles, which are designed to throw off a user’s balance and coordination, as they attempted simple tasks like walking around obstacles, or doing a nine-step walk-and-turn test.

New York state troopers operated a Seat Belt Convincer, a gravity-powered sliding chair and bumper that simulates the feeling of a low-speed crash.

“With teen drivers, we like to make sure that we help educate them on the importance of wearing their seat belt, no distracted driving, not to speed, because driving is a shared responsibility,” state trooper Brittany Burton told the Herald. “We want everyone to be safe. We want everyone to enjoy the summer coming up.”

Ali Suss-Pardo, a graduating senior and the president of SADD, has been a member of the club, which makes young people aware of the consequences of dangerous behavior, since her freshman year.

“When somebody goes to college, they can drink, they can do drugs, but you won’t actually know how those actions will impact you down the line unless you do get into a car accident or something,” Suss-Pardo said. “So it’s really important to bring attention to all of those things.”

This end-of-school-year event is one of the largest that SADD hosts all year, Nicole Levesque, a math and science teacher and the club adviser, said.

“We do it every year,” Levesque said. “This is definitely a bigger scale than what we did last year … so we’re able to invite more people, and hopefully reach more students.”