GRANTS PASS, Ore.– Driving can be very dangerous especially when distracted or intoxicated. This weekend, a new event put on by the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety is addressing those very issues with an event called “Drive With A Cop.”
For young drivers, life behind the wheel can be dangerous – even more so if you’re driving impaired. On Saturday, Grants Pass police provided a variety of discussions and activities for young drivers to learn from. This is the first time this event has been introduced outside of Clackamas County where it was first created.
“When we have a fatality that involves a young driver or teenage driver it hits the family pretty hard, it also hits the officers pretty hard,” said Deputy Chief Jim Hamilton. He says that the department has seen an increase in driving under the influence crashes over the past several years.
With this new event, they hope to lower those numbers. About 20 young drivers from the county came to participate. Many came to check out the activities and see what can happen if you drive impaired.
“Like these types of sites,” said 17-year-old Miles Immel from Grants Pass High School. He pointed to two trailers that carried the remains of cars involved in crashes. “To see what can happen if you are actually driving impaired or texting or anything. I just really wanted to come out and see that kind of stuff.”
Of the variety of activities, one of them involved using drunk goggles which act as a simulation for what it would be like to drive under the influence. Other events included a skid car and a driving course.
“We definitely want to get ahead of that especially with teens and new drivers,” said Hamilton “We want to make sure they understand the dangers of that.”
But like with any of these events, it starts with a story.
In 2014, three days short of finishing her junior year of high school, 17-year-old Maddi Higgins from West Linn died in a car crash. The driver she was with had been driving over 90 miles an hour on a 35 mile per hour road.
“I mean every day I have a hole in my heart,” said Carrie Higgins, Maddi’s mother. “But I sort of look at Maddi kind of rooting for me going, ‘Come on mom! Keep living, keep finding joy!'”
Higgins finds that joy in helping other young drivers understand safety. She helped Clackamas County with the first-ever “Drive With A Cop” event a year after Maddi died. They’ve held one of these events each year since then.
“In an age where cars are getting safer and safer, it’s the distractions and our behaviors behind the wheel and in cars that are really killing people,” said Carrie. She describes this issue as an epidemic. According to the CDC, in 2017, 2,364 kids age 16-19 were killed in motor vehicle crashes. However, 300,000 were treated in emergency departments due to motor vehicle crashes.
With this first expansion of the program outside of Clackamas County, Higgins hopes it will continue to spread and she wants the message to be clear – it’s a tragedy no one should ever have to go through.
“The hole in your heart never fills right,” she said. “But being able to change lives in her name, save lives in her name does give me a little peace.”
Grants Pass Department of Public Safety says it would like to keep doing this every year. If you would like to participate, young drivers will be able to sign up for a spot next year.
NBC5 News Reporter Miles Furuichi graduated from Chapman University with degrees in English and Journalism. He received post graduate experience in Los Angeles in photojournalism and commercial photography. He also spent time in Dublin, Ireland working in print journalism and advertising.
Miles is a Rogue Valley native, raised in Ashland. He enjoys hiking, mountain biking and photography.