By Mary O’KEEFE
At the quarterly CV Alliance Strategic Partners meeting held at the First Baptist Church-La Crescenta earlier this month, California Highway Patrol Officer Ryan Bejar talked about the programs CHP has in place to help drivers, from teenagers to senior citizens.
“We are a state agency and have a lot of different presentations,” he said adding that the range of topics include those that focus specifically on senior drivers and safe driving for adults to distracted driving. The CHP also offers a program for teen drivers called Start Smart. The program takes about one to two hours and covers everything from the laws specifically pertaining to teen drivers to the consequences of distracted driving and driving under the influence.
“The reason the presentation is long is because [we] show a lot of videos,” he said. One that is particularly poignant is called “Red Asphalt.”
Parents may remember the movie from when they were a kid but Bejar promised this version of “Red Asphalt” has been updated.
“It’s not the one from the ’70s,” he said.
The movie is produced by the CHP with information gathered from accidents they were called to, Bejar said.
“It’s a little gory and gross but … it gets the message across,” he added.
He stressed that the program is not just for teens but parents should attend screenings as well.
Bejar asked the CV Alliance audience what they thought caused traffic accidents. People began shouting out “speed,” “distracted driving” and “DUI.”
He then asked the audience to take out their cellphones and text “I am on my way home.” It took people anywhere from three seconds to 21 seconds to type and pretend to send the message.
“The average text takes 3.4 seconds [to write],” he said. “If you travel 55 miles per hour you have traveled the entire distance of a football field in that time … and when people text they usually have their head down.”
He added that traffic and texting is not always the issue. Even if the freeway is not busy, there are a lot of items found on the freeway, including sofas and refrigerators, that would cause a disastrous accident if hit by a car driven by a distracted driver.
“And in this area there are a lot of deer, and they aren’t the small Bambi deer, they’re big and can do damage,” he said.
Another issue of concern was DUI. Bejar referred to the 21-year-old woman from Fontana who was charged with driving under the influence in a February accident that killed six people. The driver had previously been charged with a DUI and had only recently received her license back, he said.
“At 4:50 a.m. we received calls of a wrong way driver on the 57 Freeway. She was heading northbound on the southbound lanes and witnesses [reported] she was traveling at about 90 to 100 miles per hour,” he said. “When we hear calls like that it is the worse thing.”
The driver then transitioned to the 60 Freeway, still traveling the wrong way, this time driving eastbound on the westbound lanes, Bejar said.
Eventually the driver collided with an Explorer head-on and killed all inside – four members of one family. In addition, the driver’s sister and friend were also killed.
In March the woman was charged with six counts of murder.
“It was a decision she made to [allegedly drive under the influence],” Bejar said. And that is what he stresses to all drivers he speaks to during his presentations.
“It is your decision that you make,” he said of driving under the influence.
To further prove how alcohol can impede a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle, he invited two volunteers from the audience to put on “drunk goggles” then attempt to walk a straight line. The goggles simulated someone with a .07 blood alcohol level, which is below the .08 legal limit, and someone with a .17 limit that is more than double the legal limit. Both volunteers had a difficult time walking the line.
Audience members were surprised that even below the legal limit the volunteer was impaired.
“That’s why we give these presentations,” he said.