[Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include additional program sponsors.]
Peabody High students will be listening in to their peers as well as a first-hand account of tragic consequences of texting or tweeting while driving at a special student assembly on Tuesday.
The larger program, seeking to impress upon teens the dangers of distracted driving, is sponsored by Phil Richard Insurance of Danvers and run by students in the DECA club at PVMHS.
It's called Peabody CRAASH (Citizens Raising Awareness for Accidents, Safety and Hazards).
Richard, a Peabody resident and parent, is helping launch what he says is a unique program to follow up on initial efforts with a distracted driving simulation (Distractology 101) and helping students afford advanced driver training courses.
“This is an event like none other that we hope will have a dramatic impact on students,” said Richard. “They will be able to see, hear and even feel the tragic consequences of distracted driving and the widespread pain it inflicts, not just to the driver but all who love them.”
“We need to drive the point home in a way that will result in a shift in these texting behaviors,” he said.
Richard says Tuesday's assembly, which includes a mini play by the drama club, remarks from Essex County deputy sheriffs, a video depicting tragic consequences of texting while driving and the personal story from a local woman whose brother was seriously injured in a crash, goes further than many other programs on distracted driving.
He says those programs are often just adults talking at students, which is only so effective, rather than directly engaging with students to show them how dangerous it is to take your eyes off the road.
Superintendent Joe Mastrocola informed the School Committee recently about the upcoming event. He said Richard approached him about the project and he was in full support.
"They hope to send a powerful message to students about texting and driving, Mastrocola said, noting they also planned to hand out 1,800 t-shirts that day to PVMHS students.
Committee members praised Richard for his leadership and generosity in sponsoring the program and similar efforts.
"I don’t think it’s quite hit with the general public how dangerous this activity is [texting and driving]." said Dave McGeney.
"I hope that parents will encourage their students to pay close attention to this," said Beverley Griffin Dunne.
The program has already been sponsored by local businesses and organizations, including Treadwell's Ice Cream, Eastern Bank, Champions Pub, Downeast Landscaping, Law Offices of James Burke, Stoneham Ford, GraVoc Associates, Peabody Rotary, Tanner City Auto School, Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce, Arbella Insurance, Safety Insurance and of course, Phil Richard Insurance.
Richard hopes to turn the Peabody program into a model other high schools can use.
Peabody CRAASH is also on Facebook and uses the page to share information and stories about distracted driving. For instance, in 2009, 16 percent of all drivers younger than 20 who were involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been texting while driving.
Studies also show that a driver dialing a cell phone is 2.8 times likelier to crash than a non-distracted driver.
Tuesday's assembly will be held in the school auditorium at 12:15 p.m. for freshman and sophomores and 1 p.m. for juniors and seniors.