Birmingham High students get crash course in distracted driving

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As part of a safe-driving program for teenagers, a group of Birmingham Community Charter High School student drivers Wednesday maneuvered a specially designed closed obstacle course to learn the dangers of driving while distracted.

They were part of a demonstration highlighting National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and California Teen Safe Driving Week. The Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy, Impact Teen Drivers, California Office of Traffic Safety, the California Highway Patrol and the UCLA football team participated in the program. 

“This raises awareness. We’re placing them in a controlled environment,” Officer Edgar Figueroa said. “This time, they’re running over cones. But next time, it could be a person.”

More than 200 local law enforcement agencies will crack down on cellphone users on roads starting today and again on Tuesday, April 17 and 22.

For this exercise, the CHP set up a winding obstacle course in a parking lot where six students navigated the course free of distractions, including parallel parking and hard turns.

“The course alone was more difficult than what I thought it would be, but overall I think I did pretty well,” Birmingham High senior Isaac Moran said. “I didn’t hit any cones.”

“Parallel parking was harder than I was expecting,” added junior Alejandro Pezqueda. “Usually I do pretty good.”

The second ride was rife with distractions, with backseat passengers randomly blaring a radio, shouting random phrases and even shoving a stick of gum in the driver’s face. The student drivers flattened a number of traffic cones that they had easily avoided earlier.

“I don’t know how people drive with distractions on the road,” Pezqueda said after he finished the second drive. ”

Martha Tessmer, educational outreach coordinator for Impact Teen Drivers, and Jeri Dye Lynch both lost sons to reckless drivers, and were at the event.

Dye Lynch, president of Pinecrest Schools, lost her 16-year-old son Conor in October 2010 after he was hit by a distracted driver.

“Hopefully, this raises awareness,” Dye Lynch said. “Every day I see people driving distracted. The biggest distraction I see is people using their phones going down a busy street, like it’s not going to happen to you.”

Adam Poulisse, On Twitter @AdamPoulisse.