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'Crash delivers graphic lesson

Wednesday, 8 October 2008 - 2:21pm.     

By Jessica George, Staff writer

FORT FRANCES—Emergency lights were flashing along McIrvine Road by the railway crossing last Thursday.
The surrounding area was littered with wrecked cars, the fields were crowded with concerned and anxious students from the high school, traffic slowed, and emergency personnel worked feverishly to rescue victims using the “jaws of life.”
It was all cleverly planned—and altogether fake.
Back in March, the idea of creating a fatal car crash demonstration came alive when Fort Frances OPP Cst. Anne McCoy received a $500 grant from the Ministry of Transportation’s road safety committee to go towards just that.
“The purpose of the mock fatal is education,” explained Cst. McCoy. “For this particular mock fatal, it was education about the tragedy and consequences of aggressive drivers and impaired drivers.”
She added the demonstration also aimed to draw attention to Bill 203, in effect for just over a year, which increased fines and penalties for aggressive driving.
The intention of the crash scene, first and foremost, was to shock people and draw attention.
“We know it will concern people,” conceded Cst. McCoy, noting everyone involved kept the plan under wraps in order to obtain that level of concern and surprise.
“It will make them worry, but it will make them talk.”
The target population was teenagers, which was why McIrvine Road (which runs behind Fort Frances High School) was chosen as the prime location.
“[Teenagers] are new and inexperienced drivers, and they are affected by peer pressure,” Cst. McCoy noted. “Daily, they have to make the choices about the use of drugs and alcohol and driving, either with friend or just by themselves.
“As police, we notice the high amount of alcohol consumption and we hear them talking about drug use and we also witness them driving aggressively,” she continued.
“We need the teens to understand that crashes do happen and teens in particular, as inexperienced drivers, must be educated to the fact that if they don’t make safe choices to reduce the risks, they could be involved in a serious motor vehicle collision.
“The higher the level of risky behaviour, the higher the chance of being involved in a serious collision,” Cst. McCoy stressed.
“And . . . just look at how many people would become involved in just the crash scene—not to mention who would be affected if someone died,” she added.
McIrvine Road sees a high volume of traffic around the noon hour, which was exactly why the scenario was staged for that time. Many student drivers passing by on their way home for lunch, as well as other motorists, were handed literature on the importance of driving safely.
The entire event also was videotaped. Andrew George, of All Good Projects, assembled a crew of four cameramen in order to fully document the scale of the mock crash.
The clips then will be transformed into a short film that will be used by the P.A.R.T.Y. program (which is geared towards Grade 10 students to teach them the consequences of risky behaviour) and also be used in presentations across the district.
The local Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter will also adopt it for their presentation once it is completed, and will be shown to audiences here and also in Atikokan and Rainy River.
“With this video, we can take them right to the scene of a crash,” said Cst. McCoy, noting many students have no idea what all occurs at a serious crash scene.
In just three short weeks, Cst. McCoy pulled together CN Rail, the local fire station, OPP, Treaty #3, ambulances and paramedics, the first responders team (who served as actors), Green’s Funeral Home, North Auto (who supplied the trashed vehicles), Peterbilt (who offered a meeting grounds), B•93, and All Good Projects in order to pull off the mock fatal crash without a hitch.
A lot of help was offered on a volunteer basis, which aided organizers to stay on budget and keep everything running smoothly.
The entire scenario was treated as if it were real, and those in emergency response were given the opportunity to go through their training procedures. So not only was this is a great educational process for high school students, but also an excellent chance to get some practice in for the local emergency response teams.
Cst. McCoy revealed she personally was very interested in putting together an event like this because as a police officer, she has been called to numerous motor vehicle collisions and every one of them takes an emotional toll on her.
“Each one of the fatal accidents I’ve investigated, I have had to do the death notifications to the families,” she remarked. “Every one of them breaks my heart and every one of them I have permanently etched in my memory.
“They are very tragic,” she said sadly. “The public needs to realize that when we ask people politely to ‘please don’t drink and drive,’ it doesn’t work. We conduct RIDE checks daily and still are finding impaired drivers.
“Regardless of media campaigns, RIDE checks, general patrol, and enforcement, we still respond to serious car crashed involving speed, one as recently as September,” Cst. McCoy said, speaking candidly of the need for more dramatic measures.
She understands full well that the demonstration was shocking to people and quite disturbing to some, but stressed the underlying need to make people realize that aggressive and impaired driving “can be a matter of life and death.”
The event was deemed a success overall as high school students, and even those at St. Francis, were rattled by what was going on just behind them.
Cst. McCoy was excited to hear that people are really talking about the issue, which is very reassuring to the cause.
(Fort Frances Times)

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