Trooper Michael Landers of the Ohio Highway Patrol wasn’t writing tickets on this day, but he left a lasting impression to the children and teens who took the wheel of a distracted driving simulator at a Mahoning Valley Healthy Kids Coalition Fitness & Safety Fair event at the Southern Park Mall in Boardman.
The event will be repeated June 6, noon to 2 p.m., at the Eastwood Mall in Niles.
Trooper Landers’ video game-like demonstration involved sitting at a steering wheel looking at a monitor as if it were the driver’s dashboard and windshield.
One setting involved wearing goggles that simulated drunk driving, and another offered visual and audible distractions that simulated texting and talking on a cell phone while driving.
“Sure it’s fun, but at the end of the day we’re trying to educate about the dangers of distracted driving and emphasize that it’s is not a game. It’s a serious thing that can – and does – lead to serious consequences,” Landers said.
“The goggles made it a lot harder. I can’t imagine driving like that,” said Melanie Weaver, a teenager from Ontario, Canada, who was in town for a family wedding.
Another popular exhibit at the event was the “safe sleep” demonstration, which was funded by a grant from the SID Network of Ohio. Akron Children’s Diane Lockett, a clinical nurse practice leader in Mahoning Valley, was among the educators conducting the demo.
“SIDS is the leading cause of death among babies between 1 month and 1 year of age, and three babies die in Ohio every week due to unsafe sleep environments,” Lockett said. “With all the emphasis on safe sleep education from us and other health agencies we’ve actually seen a reduction in SIDS incidents overall. So it’s working, but we need to continue the efforts.”
One-on-one sleep safety demonstrations emphasized the “A-B-C” philosophy to parents, which means “alone,” “on their backs” and “in a crib.”
Adult family members of infants less than 1 year of age who participated in the demo and pre- and post-test were given $10 Walmart gift cards to be used toward the purchase of a sleep sack.
Other fitness and safety fair activities included jump rope and hula hoop challenges, a nutrition wheel trivia game, bicycle safety course and the opportunity to sit in emergency services vehicles.
“An event like this is a great idea and can spark an interest that’s good for the kids,” said Lindsay Wolfe of North Lima. She brought her daughters, ages 5 and 2, who were trying out the hula hoops. Her older daughter spent 40 days in an Akron Children’s NICU after birth.
The Mahoning Valley Healthy Kids Coalition is a collaboration of Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley, Mahoning County Health Department, Trumbull County Health Department, Junior League of Youngstown, Warren-Trumbull County Public Library and the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County.
Funding for the programs comes from the William Swanston Charitable Fund, a supporting organization of the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley.