BERRIEN CO.--- Here is a frightening statistic: 11 teens die every day in this country because of texting and driving, and another 330,000 are injured each year.
Some area high school students, who enjoy working with numbers, are doing their part to spread the word about this growing problem.
Students at the Niles New Tech High School have teamed up with the Berrien County Sheriff's Department to make a difference. It's part physics, part Hollywood, but it's entirely about saving lives.
They are a set of public service announcements that most of us have never seen.
Two teens taking a care-free drive, but always remaining connected to their cell phones.
The nearly minute-and-a-half long video plays out with a predictable ending when the driver looks down to check a text message, sees a pedestrian in the road, loses control and crashes her car with catastrophic results.
What follows is sobering: a call that goes unanswered and a black and white message about texting and driving.
“At the end of it, when the phone rings and nobody answers it, you kind of understand what happens,” said Berrien County Deputy Sheriff Thad Chartrand. “Hey, these kids got into an accident and nobody's... I don't want to say dead, but nobody is conscious enough to answer the phone, so it sends chills down your spine.”
This is the reaction of an officer who has seen his share of bad crashes involving teen drivers.
It just so happens teens are entirely responsible for this PSA.
“The thought process, and the costuming, and whether its wardrobe or make-up, and doing fake blood, and doing smoke coming from a car, a wrecked car, and making contacts using crashed cars, and getting cars to do their video in,” said Deputy Chartrand. “They put a lot of time and effort into this.”
Students from Niles New Tech wrote, shot, edited and acted in the series of public service announcements on distracted driving. They also designed and produced posters.
The Berrien County Sheriff's Department is a community partner with Niles New Tech, and Deputy Chartrand teamed up with Niles New Tech sophomore physics teacher J.R. Buison on the project.
“I was blown away, I absolutely was,” said Buison. “To see some of these videos, and to see the time and effort it took for them to come up with all these resources, to find time outside of school to tape, to film, to edit, and to ask questions to make sure they got it right, it was really quite impressive to see the amount of production value they did on their own.”
But remember, it's not a film class, it's a physics class.
“The important aspects of putting together the video is understanding when you stop, or if you react, that all has to do with numbers, and forces, and physics, and the ideas behind it,” said Buison. “To produce a video that makes sense, that is believable to the audience they're trying to reach.”
Visual and cultural relevance meets the simple laws of physics.
“We would give them the basic concept information for speed, velocity, acceleration,” said Buison. “By using those ideas, they figured out the time it takes for them to look down at their phone and look up. They realized that they already passed a significant distance where, if they were just looking at the road, they would have more time to stop.”
Despite the students' artistic interpretation, their numbers paint a scary picture.
“They were shocked to find out that by just looking down for less than two seconds, you've already passed the length of a football field,” said Buison.
Besides creating an understanding of the dangers of distracted driving, this partnership has also created a better understanding between law enforcement and the young people they protect.
“Now you have kids, when you go to the football game and you stand to watch the football games, you interact, they come up to you and they talk to you,” said Deputy Chartrand. “We want them to know we're there to help them, anytime they need us, whether it's just lending an ear to talk to.”
The PSA’s are being shown before movies at The Wonderland Cinema in Niles and the Loma Theatre in Coloma, both part of the Moore Theatre Chain.
The hope is that some local commercial TV stations will consider airing them.