Kart 2 Kart Indoor Karting Sterling Heights, MI : Distracted driving exercise shows high school students what could come
Raymond Benvenuti sat cuffed by Sterling Heights Police Lt. Aaron Burgess on Thursday in the back of a black hearse.
The 17-year-old Sterling Heights High School senior attempted a nervous smile. But an open coffin standing to his right quickly subdued that.
Benvenuti hadn’t committed a crime, and he wasn’t the victim of some pre-Halloween prank.
The teen was taking part in a high school alcohol and distracted driving program at Kart2Kart indoor racing facility on Van Dyke Avenue in Sterling Heights attended by 70 young students from around the area, police and emergency workers and sponsored, in part, by a local funeral home.
Earlier, Benvenuti and the teen group attempted to negotiate a series of barriers and cones on the K2K track wearing so-called drunk goggles that simulated driving while impaired.
“I tried to swing around the obstacles but ended up hitting them,” said Benvenuti. “That could have been a toddler, a car, even an ambulance. The faster I went, the less control I had. In a real accident, I could have died, or killed someone. I don’t want that to be me — dead — over a stupid choice. I got to see what I’d look like in a coffin.”
Benvenuti wasn’t the only student who plowed into the temporary barriers and walls at K2K during Thursday’s program, the brainchild of Burgess and track owner Tony Eckrich.
Almost every young driver smashed headlong into the barriers and cones and often found their kart wedged up against the walls of the racetrack.
“It teaches the kids one thing,” said Eckrich. “You can’t control a vehicle after you have been drinking or you are distracted on your phone or texting. Your mental focus changes. Your depth perception, and your reflexes. I’m just happy Kart2Kart can be of help with this terrific program.”
Burgess started his program in Sterling Heights in 2001 while working in the Sterling Heights traffic safety bureau.
He met Eckrich “while I was on bike patrol checking on buildings” during a shift.
“I soon discovered Tony was a passionate local businessman who wanted to make things safer on the road for kids,” explained Burgess. “I said, ‘Tony, I’ve got drunk goggles, you’ve got a race track and go-karts. Let’s put them together, have some fun and help educate teens about impaired driving and distracted driving.’ Tony jumped aboard.”
Eckrich told Burgess he’d gladly donate the track, staff, equipment and his time to the high school program, which on Thursday at Kart2Kart hosted teens from Henry Ford II, Stevenson, Sterling Heights, Eisenhower, Utica and Royal Oak high schools.
In between driving, students Thursday also sat down in K2K’s conference room and heard from Sterling Heights police officers on crash investigation and arrest procedures; vehicle extraction and emergency treatment by Sterling Heights Fire Department officials; court procedures and consequences from several 41-A District Court judges and magistrates; and how bad judgement and accidents could affect their driving records from a State Farm insurance agent.
They also were provided some sobering numbers by Transport Improvement Association of Michigan executive director Jim Santilli on 184,316 traffic accidents in the state of Michigan from Jan 1 through Aug. 31 that claimed 604 lives and injured 47,177 — 6,046 accidents alcohol related with a death toll of 168.
“Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teens and young adults nationally,” said Santilli. “Education like we are providing here today is so important. Every day, nationally, we lose the equivalent of a fully loaded Boeing 737 passenger jet due to traffic accidents.”
Sadly, those numbers included the deaths of three teens in a single-car accident that seriously injured two other occupants in the vehicle in an alcohol related crash at Stony Creek Metropark in May 2015.
The dead and injured were students from Eisenhower, Stevenson, Henry Ford II and Utica high schools.
“The kids didn’t go to my school, but the tragedy was felt in our school and my community,” said Sterling Heights senior Usling Palokaj, 17, who participated at K2K Thursday. “I knew them. It taught us our lesson and today we are reminded here about it.”
Henry Ford II classmates Kayla Agosta and Katie Hohenstern, both 16, were at K2K to learn about the consequences of driving impaired and/or distracted in a controlled atmosphere.
They both crashed into obstacles while wearing the drunk goggles.
“It definitely showed me the impact and how much damage drinking and driving could do,” said Agosta. “It teaches you just what can happen.”
“It’s scary,” she said. “Drunk or distracted driving — it can change your life and those many around you.”