A Bozeman police officer directed an unsteady man to take nine steps, heel to toe, down the yellow line of a parking space off West Main Street.
“Once you start, I don’t want you to stop until you’re finished,” the officer said.
The man started, one foot in front of the other, drifting farther off the line with each step, nearly falling while turning around to walk back. The officer moved to catch him, but the man was able to walk back to the curb, albeit several inches away from the line.
He removed the drunk goggles and laughed with those around him over the difficulty of walking a straight line. Several yards behind him, a teenager talking on a cell phone while driving a golf cart ran over a couple orange cones.
On the east side of the parking lot, a busted-up minivan was on its side and a snowplow was set up to demonstrate the driver’s line of sight.
The smashed-in squad car of a Montana Highway Patrol trooper killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver rested on the south end of the lot.
All this was set up at the Bozeman High School parking lot for a Teen Driving Safety Program, arranged by the Bozeman Police Department as part of National Teen Driver Safety Week. The event was the first of its kind put on by police in Bozeman, said Lt. Mark Johnson.
“What we’re trying to teach our young drivers is it’s not necessarily texting or their cell phone, it’s the distractions in the car,” Johnson said. “If we can convince our young drivers to put the stuff down… maybe we’ll save a life.”
A study of accidents investigated by police from February to July this year showed that distractions — well, distractions admitted by the driver — factored into roughly 7 percent of the 582 accidents during that time period, said Chief Ron Price.
While about 12 of those accidents involved cell phone use, distractions aren’t limited to texting or talking on the phone, he said. Eating, children in the backseat, picking things up off the floor and changing the music played a role in 29 additional accidents, Price said.
The idea for the safety event sprang from brainstorming sessions held by police over the past few weeks on how to educate teenage drivers, Johnson said. It just so happened to coincide with a nice day and National Teen Driver Safety Week, he said, adding that he hopes to hold an event like this each year.
Folks who stopped by were glad to see such an event in the community.
“They’re a really challenging group when it comes to safety behind the wheel,” said Stacy Wesen, who dropped by with her daughter.
Hunter, 14, took a turn around the golf cart driving course, knocking over several cones while talking with her mom on the phone. It was hard, she said.
Nearly all of the 20 to 25 people who tried the driving courses or sobriety tests had a tough time with them, said Officer Rick Musson. He noted a significant difference in reaction time when drivers were distracted, even though a golf cart is much slower than a car. People were surprised when they first realized how distracting a cell phone is and several said they’d never drive distracted after running through the course.
“I think it’s really hitting home,” Musson said.
Jason Bacaj may be reached at email@example.com or 582-2635.