Students and staff at Northwest Catholic High School officially pledged to become safer drivers by signing "I-Promise" Wednesday morning, following a safety presentation by the West Hartford Police and WFSB traffic reporter Olessa Stepanova. Signers commited: "not to drive distracted, not to text while driving, to keep their hands on the wheel, and to keep their eyes on the road."
According to a news release, "I-Promise is an educational campaign to warn Connecticut drivers of all ages of the dangers of driving while distracted and to change the way they think and act in a car. It also encourages students to make good decisions in all aspects of their lives."
Northwest Catholic administration expressed an interest in bringing the program – a joint effort of WFSB and the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association – to their community. The West Hartford police were enthusiastic about participating, said Director of Communications Kimberly Sanders.
Although not all Northwest Catholic students are old enough to drive yet, all participated. "The entire student population saw the presentation, the idea being that they will all become drivers eventually and they all ride in cars and can encourage whoever is driving to put away any distractions," said Sanders.
During the presentation, Stepanova showed a video of a young man, driving while distracted, who accidentally killed a 75-year-old man. Sanders said that there were "audible gasps" from the students when they saw the crash scene.
Paramedic Bree Eichler told students about her firsthand experience at automobile accident scenes where teens were either killed or injured. West Hartford Fire Department Lt. Kevin Munson said he has "lost count" of the number of fatal accidents he has been involved with, and warned students it could happen to them.
“What would it be like if you caused the death of a close friend because you were driving distracted?” West Hartford Police Capt. Donald Melanson asked the students. Police Lt. Frank Fallon, who heads West Hartford's Community Relations Division, asked students to sign I-Promise, and reiterated the importance of focusing on their driving while behind the wheel. He urged them to spread the message about distracted driving to others.
"The students seemed enthusiastic about the presentation and asked the safety personnel questions about driving laws and safety," Sanders said.
She said that hundreds of Northwest Catholic students and staff signed I-Promise following the presentation.
Distracted driving by students has been a concern, according to Vice Principal and Dean of Students Brendan Canny. “We want to make students more aware of the dangers of driving distracted and to encourage them to make good choices both in and out of school," he said in the release.
Northwest Catholic is the first West Hartford school that the West Hartford Police and WFSB partnered with for the I-Promise campaign.
I-Promise is available for anyone to sign electronically on the WFSB website and is also provided as a PDF above.
Last year, Conard students participated in a simulation of the dangers of texting while driving as part of AT&T's "It Can Wait" campaign. Hall students have participated in and won awards in the DMV's Safe Driving Video Contest.