By Gary Walker
Students at Venice High School received a graphic visual lesson last Thursday on how the irresponsible actions of one driver can impact others around them.
In One Instant, a teenage safe driving initiative that aims raise awareness about distracted and impaired driving, presented a short film in the school’s auditorium depicting the perils of dangerous driving by teens.
It showed how one teen driving after an afternoon of drinking with two of his classmates resulted in disaster when the teen driver struck a car coming out of his school’s parking lot, killing his friend in the back seat and leaving the front seat passenger paralyzed. A popular teacher and a football star on his way to college were also killed.
Cheryl Wada, who founded the program with Gail Schenbaum Lawton four years ago, has taken her teen safety initiative to several schools in the area, including to Santa Monica High School last year.
“We create a highly dramatic and emotional event of what can happen ‘in one instant,’” Wada said. “But we end on an uplifting note that tells teens that life is worth living and encourage them to make the right choices.”
Students from Venice High were selected from the school magnet program to act as pallbearers at a mock funeral after the film was shown. They read letters to their loved ones that were written as if they had been one of the victims who died in the car crash. The students drafted the letters in a workshop the previous day.
Lauren Foster, a 17-year old senior, participated in the mock funeral. She called writing the letter to her parents “a difficult process” because she had to access emotions that were unfamiliar and unpleasant.
Another senior, Michael Verdin, 17, also found it hard to get the right feelings on paper.
“It was enlightening to hear what I would say to my mom [if I had been killed in a car crash],” said Verdin.
Venice High School Parent-Teachers-Students Association President Linda Soleib was in a similar workshop for parents and found the experience unnerving.
“We were forced to look at something that we don’t want to think about,” said Solieb, whose has a daughter in ninth grade at the high school.
Soleib, who acknowledged that she has driven while talking on her cell phone, said she had now sworn off such behavior.
“I’m never going to touch my phone again while I’m driving,” she pledged.
Verdin and Foster said they plan to sign a “Vow to Live” pledge found on In One Instant’s website, streetwisemedia.org.
Derrick Campbell, the Title I coordinator at Venice High, said electronic devices and their use have been a frequent topic of discussion among the faculty, administration and students.
Wada and Schenbaum Lawton created In One Instant after learning of several fatal accidents involving students at Pacific Palisades High School several years ago. Wada said two of her children knew students who had been involved in fatalities where a teenaged driver was behind the wheel and impaired or distracted by something.
“I remember when we lost four young lives and I decided I couldn’t stand by any longer,” Wada said.
The film appeared to have an effect on the Venice High students.
“It showed me that I have to be more aware of who I’m driving with,” Verdin said. “Seeing the outcome of the film showed me how quickly life can turn.”
“I think the [participants] are different people now,” Campbell said.