Cherry Hill high school seniors tackle distracted driving program

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For seniors at Cherry Hill high schools, the countdown is on for the June 17 graduation date. Following is an eventful few months that include prom, graduation and summer parties.

For the Cherry Hill Police Department, it is their job to make sure a summer of joy doesn’t end in tragedy.

The senior class at both high schools has spent part of May going through a distracted driving course meant to be a teaching tool for the students by showing them the dangers of distracted driving.

Originating in 2010, the police department’s impaired driver simulation program has the students navigate a winding course of cones. Distractions such as a basketball simulate pedestrians. The students drive through the course as they normally would and then go through the course again wearing fatal vision goggles.

Traffic Sgt. Glenn Charney helps to run the program and said it has been beneficial in teaching the students in a practical and engaging manner.

This year, the police department has added cell phones to the program. The police department received operational cell phones courtesy of Verizon. One student on the sidelines will text a student who is trying to navigate the course.

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“It just shows them how much focus it takes off of what they’re trying to do,” Charney said.

The addition of cell phones has made the program go from strictly a sobriety test to one of distracted driving.

Cherry Hill East physical education teacher Ken Smith has observed the program for a few years now.

“They are making improvements to it every year,” he said.

The timing of the program comes with prom season just around the corner at Cherry Hill East, and that is not a coincidence. The police want the students to have the program in the forefront of their mind if they find themselves faced with a real-life situation in the coming weeks.

When the kids weren’t driving on the course, a sobriety tape was set up to simulate a DUI check. There were also brain games available so the students could see how their brain reacted to a mind-stimulating puzzle while intoxicated.

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On top of the driving course, the police will also be conducting a crash simulation at the school next week. All the activities are meant to teach the kids an important lesson.

“The idea is to just make them more aware,” Smith said.

Smith and the students kept track of the times on the simulated course, creating a fun, competitive environment. To make things challenging, penalties were set up every time a driver hit a cone or another object.

Charney said the police would like to hand out prizes for the best drivers in the future to help keep the students engaged.

For now, he hopes the participants learn the lesson the exercise is teaching them and avoid dangerous situations in the future.

“If one student takes something away from what we do, then it is worth it,” Charney said.