It was supposed to represent an eye-opening experience for some of our local students. But what they got in return was something we don't think they expected.
It involved a lesson during driver's education classes at Mountain Home High School. To graduate from the course, each student is required to conduct a traffic study at two key intersections in Mountain Home.
During each of the two 30-minute studies, these students are asked to check how drivers and their passengers act. The students are looking for everything from the proper use of turn signals to whether people are obeying the rules of the road.
Originally, we expected this lesson would illustrate that far too many people here were driving with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a cell phone. Maybe it would prove that others get a little too complacent behind the wheel without realizing it -- an important lesson these future drivers needed to see firsthand.
But it seems this lesson taught something entirely different. Case in point: Some students recorded an alarmingly high number of drivers and passengers not wearing seatbelts versus those who were.
The statistics weren't even close.
According to preliminary numbers collected over the past weekend, the number of unrestrained drivers in Mountain Home nearly matched those wearing seatbelts. What was equally alarming was the number passengers that were also disregarding their own personal safety.
There were other disturbing examples. In two instances, two trucks rolled down American Legion Boulevard with people riding in the back. Five of those unrestrained passengers were children.
In a matter of fairness, it's important to note that the time these surveys were conducted were completely selected at random. In addition, it was tough spotting someone wearing their seatbelt depending on the make and model of vehicle. Other times, it was blatant when people didn't buckle up.
But the numbers don't lie. Despite years of telling people to "make it click," many in this city apparently don't. Truth be told, we're not sure why.
Oddly enough, the number of drivers using cell phone during the same study didn't come even close to these statistics. However, at least one of those drivers was texting behind the wheel. Come July 1, that becomes illegal in this state.
And there's more these driver's education students took away from this study. At one four-way intersection in the city's core downtown area, far too many people were rolling through without stopping.
Most of the time, drivers were pulling what some would call a "California stop," where the vehicle slows down for the stop sign but never stops. In a few cases, it appeared that some drivers treated these "stop" signs as merely suggestions.
Then there were a few really blatant examples of how easily drivers can get distracted if they're not careful. Pets in the car or truck topped that list. While a few dogs sat in the backseat, a few chose to ride up front. At least two of them were sitting on the driver's lap with their heads sticking out the window.
It's not exactly the example these young students wanted to learn, but we're hoping it clearly illustrates what not to do behind the wheel.
Those of us at the Mountain Home News that regularly cover vehicle crashes have seen firsthand what happens when someone decides to not wear their seatbelt or allows a moment of distraction to take their eyes off the road.
We've written far too many stories where people have died or ended up with debilitating injuries from the countless vehicle accidents that happen on the interstate and our local roadways.
In most cases, these senseless tragedies were avoidable. It takes less than a second to grab that seatbelt and click it into place. The "inconvenience" of having that lifesaving device wrapped around someone's body is a lot more comfortable than the immeasurable pain of being launched headfirst through a windshield or out the driver's side window in a rollover.
These are lessons we're hoping these current drivers education students -- and future generations of drivers -- fully understand and won't repeat.
-- Brian S. Orban