TAMPA — Adults are always saying it to teen drivers: Be careful.
But somehow, even the graphic lesson of four Pinellas County students killed in a fiery wreck April 10 hasn't changed everyone's risky habits, according to students at Alonso High School.
"People are still driving drunk," said sophomore Haley Czarnowski.
"People in our school parking lot drive crazy," said senior Jordan Clark.
They were among several dozen driver's education students who had their eyes opened Friday by a simulated high-speed rollover, complete with a passenger ejection, courtesy of the Florida Highway Patrol.
They watched as a mobile crash simulator rolled and rolled in front of them. One crash-test dummy slipped under the vehicle. Another wound up hanging out the driver's side window.
"To see someone hanging out the window was a little disturbing," admitted senior Janelee Clements.
The demonstration was part of a longtime program by the FHP to show teens a little something about the physics of careless driving.
State troopers videotaped the whole event. Everything the Alonso students saw will be posted on a state-funded Web site that features realistic crash videos and demonstrations, with teens interviewing their peers on the consequences of inattention.
"Too many kids, or passing the cell phone around, and it leads to a crash," said Sgt. Steve Gaskins, describing the online videos at takethewheel.net. "If a kid gets into a crash, he can get online and post his story."
Students learn how quickly a car travels 100 feet down the highway — about as long as it takes to blink — and how fast a passenger without a seat belt will hit the window.
"(I learned) to be more cautious of my speed," said junior Nyema Cumberbath. "Just to understand if you're going 75 miles per hour, your body doesn't stop until it hits the car."
Students said they were saddened by the April 10 crash in Seminole. But somehow, several said, seeing a car flipping right in front of your eyes makes it real.
"I will wear my seat belt from now on," vowed sophomore Alyssa Brown. "I hate seat belts."
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400.