BURRILLVILLE – In a town that had its share of serious accidents over the summer, including a July 11 crash that killed two teenagers, two Burrillville High School educators have joined forces with local police to drive home the message to student drivers about the dangers of distracted driving.
On Sept. 26, the high school will be the host school for the “National Save a Life Tour,” a high-impact distracted driving awareness program that travels around the country to educate students about the dangers of districted driving and driving drunk.
Funded by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, the program uses high-impact video, a personal experience with a life-altering distracted driving incident, and driving simulators to illustrate the very real and often fatal consequences of destructive decisions and poor choices.
“With the recent rash of fatal accidents occurring on Route 102 and across the country, it is imperative that this important message is sent out to young motorists,” said Burrillville Police Major Lareto P. Guglietta.
The event is being organized by Janet McLinden, Burrillville High School’s student assistance counselor and adviser to the high school’s SADD program, and Barbara DeMasco, the school’s health and physical education department leader. The event will also be attended by members of the Burrillville Police Department and Rhode Island Department of Transportation Highway Safety Office.
The high school, in conjunction with the police department, started educating students on the dangers of distracted driving as part of a new health curriculum begun last year.
“Hopefully, by participating in this program, students will pledge not to drive distracted and help to save lives,” Guglietta said.
The first in the string of local accidents on Route 102 took place on July 9, when 37-year-old Providence resident Massiel Ortiz died after her vehicle collided with another vehicle on Route 102. Four others were taken to local hospitals with other injuries, including a man, his 1-year-old son and Ortiz’s two teenage daughters.
On July 11, two teens were killed when a sedan and a minivan collided head-on on the same section of Route 102. Killed in that crash were Shannon Heil, 19, of Burrillville, and Markell Torres, 19, of Easthampton, Mass. They were in the sedan with a third person, William Scurry, 21, of Woonsocket, who was treated at the scene for a minor injury. Police said 34-year-old Stephanie Jalette of Burrillville was alone in the minivan. She was taken by helicopter to Rhode Island Hospital with serious injuries.
The third crash took place on July 15, sending a grandmother and 1-year-old child to the hospital after their car was struck by a driver who was cited for running a red light at Route 102 and East Avenue.
Shortly after the accidents, the R.I. Department of Transportation conducted a road safety assessment study along the entire corridor of Route 102. While police say the accidents were all the result of operator error, the DOT agreed to do the audit to find ways to make it safer.
Recommendations in the audit include increasing the space between opposing travel lanes, reducing road shoulder widths, and updating existing traffic signals to include advanced dilemma zone detection systems.
The assessment also proposes rumble strips in the median and the shoulder to provide distracted drivers with a wakeup call should they divert from their travel lane. If installed on Route 102, state traffic engineers believe rumble strips could be an effective countermeasure for preventing roadway departure crashes.
Rumble stripes is the term used for strips painted with a retroreflective coating to increase the visibility of the pavement edge at night and during inclement weather conditions. The noise and vibration produced by rumble strips alert drivers when they leave the traveled way.
There are two main applications of rumble strips — centerline rumble strips, which prevent head-on collisions and opposite-direction sideswipes — and shoulder rumble strips, which prevent run-off-the-road crashes.
The DOT’s assessment of Route 102 also recommends updating existing traffic signals to include advanced dilemma zone detection systems. It modifyies traffic control signal timing to reduce the number of drivers that may have difficulty deciding whether to stop or proceed during a yellow phase. Traffic engineers say this could reduce rear-end crashes associated with unsafe stopping and angle crashes due to illegally continuing into the intersection during the red phase.