With prom, summer and a slew of tourists coming to the East End in the next few weeks, officials at Southampton High School are working to make sure students are safe behind the wheel and empowering them to make smart decisions while driving.
Last week, to help drive the point home, the district invited Paul D. Failla, an educational consultant, to deliver a two-hour presentation to juniors and seniors not only about the dangers of driving and the effect it can have on their own lives, but the impact it would have on everyone around them, from parents to classmates and friends.
During his presentation, which drew from his past experience as a veteran of the Suffolk County Police Department and as an actor, Mr. Failla told personal anecdotes ranging from responding to the scenes of accidents, viewing autopsies and personally knowing young teens who were killed behind the wheel, to make students think twice before speeding, driving drunk, texting or using the phone, and not paying attention to their surroundings.
“Unfortunately, we are losing our teenagers in motor vehicle accidents in epidemic proportions,” Mr. Failla said. “The importance of a driver’s safety awareness course is not to reduce points on your license or lower insurance, it is to outline the ramifications of destructive behavior behind the wheel and what is affected by your decisions.”
Mr. Failla has been speaking publicly about safe driving for the past 28 years, and has spoken to thousands of New York high school students. He has traveled across the country, and is an author of several books about safe driving, as well as an actor and speaker with the right skills to get students’ attention.
Last week, Ginny Kellog, a 16-year support staff member at Southampton High School, said she was inspired to organize the event after recent accidents that claimed the lives of residents not much older than the high schoolers. She was referring to the death in April of a passenger, 24-year-old Water Mill resident Jason Pollak, on Flying Point Road, and an accident in May that took the life of Neil S. Fyfe, 29, while he was attempting to ride his bike across County Road 39 in Southampton.
“Some of these accidents might not have occurred had these kids been making better decisions,” she said. “I had 300-plus reasons sitting in that auditorium on Thursday as to why I wanted this program back at Southampton. These guys are all so special, and they needed to be reminded that there would be big holes in other people’s lives if they weren’t here.”
And the message seems to have hit home. A 17-year-old junior, Keara Wood, said she appreciated Mr. Failla’s candor when speaking to the students, noting that he did not rely on slide shows and graphs to get his point across.
“Normally, when we get these types of presentations, there is a big screen and they give us all of these statistics that we already know, because it has been recycled,” she said. “But yesterday was different, because it was three hours with a guy who really cared about what he was talking about, and it was clear through him being emotional and us being emotional.”
Another junior, Alexis Rosko, 17, agreed, saying that it was easy to see how each scenario described could impact their lives.
“He wasn’t preaching to us,” she said. “He just gave examples and weaved it in how we should do better and how it related to him and how it could relate to us. He didn’t tell us not do something—he gave examples.”
Last week, Mr. Failla shared that the most important part of his presentation, to him, is when he gets down on his knees and asks the students to think about him begging them to be careful before they take for granted the power of a car. During the speech, he inspires the students to be vigilant when behind the wheel or in the passenger seat, saying that more than one set of eyes can help prevent accidents.
Senior Lyle Smith, 17, said that the message hit him especially hard, as three of his cousins were killed in a car accident last year. He said he hopes that his peers took Mr. Failla’s lesson to heart.
“I’m not going to act like I don’t see it or hear about kids our age getting killed because of dangerous driving,” he said. “This is a really important lesson to hear.”