L.A. Youth Learn Safe Pedestrian Practices with DIES® Mat

Mina Farag works for the Children’s Hospital L.A. in its trauma program. While much of the trauma program is concerned with passenger safety for young children, Farag’s programs deal with middle- and high-school youth.

“Distracted pedestrians and driving are problems for them,” he says.

Farag was already familiar with the Fatal Vision® Impairment Goggles when he began creating the middle-school pedestrian program. The hospital’s trauma program uses them regularly in its danger prevention presentations. While researching tools for his new program, he ran across the Danger in Every Step (DIES®) Distracted Driving Activity Mat on the Fatal Vision® web site. Past experience with Fatal Vision® Goggles made using DIES® with his audience a natural choice.

“It can be difficult to make resources yourself,” he says. “This was an easy sell to my manager.”

Addressing middle-school distractions
The aim of Farag’s Distracted Pedestrian Education course is threefold:

  1. To teach students about the dangers of distracted pedestrians
  2. To give students a firsthand experience navigating an obstacle course while distracted
  3. To teach students best pedestrian practices

He starts the presentation with a brief introduction and moves on quickly to a short pre-test for all students attending. This gauges students’ attitudes about and knowledge of distracted pedestrian behavior. The group usually consists of about 100 to 150 youths. Farag moves the presentation on to the next phase by choosing four or five student volunteers from the group.

An obstacle course layout that includes a slalom, a rope ladder, a mine field (cones with balls balanced on them), a lettered floor pad, and the DIES® mat.

Student volunteers are then set two tasks. The first one is to simply walk the DIES® obstacle course with no handheld distractions. The segments of the course include a slalom course, a rope ladder, a mine field (cones with balls balanced on them), a lettered floor pad, and the DIES® mat. They are asked rapid-fire questions such as Who is the president of the United States? or What is our state capital? They’re scored by time, number of objects knocked over, and number of correct responses to the questions.

The second time through, students are given a task to perform while navigating the course. They’re told to open their notes section and type their school schedule into their handheld device while navigating the same course and wearing a safety helmet with a GoPro® handheld camera attached to record their journey. Students are evaluated again by time, number of objects knocked over, number of correct responses, and number of grammatical errors while texting.

“Initially, students think they can do this easily,” Farag says. “But no one’s texted past period 3.”

Student reaction to DIES®
At first, student volunteers are frustrated they’re unable to do something they think they can easily accomplish—something they think they’ve been successfully navigating every day.

“They say, ‘But I do this all the time,’” Farag says. “They have to realize that they could get hurt doing it.” And the DIES® experience drives that point home.

“The students absolutely love the obstacle course,” Farag continues. “It gives them perspective in a realistic way.”

Farag says that middle-school students can be a difficult audience to capture—especially in a big group. But the DIES® Distracted Driving Activity Mat makes that job far easier. Farag reports that at one school he went to, three out of the four teachers present were substitutes, and students took advantage of that.

“It was a rowdy session,” he says wryly.

But afterward, a student came up to reassure him that the presentation had made a long-lasting impact and that he would change his behavior because of what he’d seen that day. He ended with a big thanks to Farag for the program.

At another school, a student had recently died crossing the street. The school brought Farag in with the program while the death was fresh in everyone’s mind in hopes it will keep such an event from happening again.

So far, Farag has used DIES® with 734 middle school students. He says that the pre-surveys students complete show them getting 32 percent of education-based questions correct. When students complete the after-program survey, they score 51 percent correct. On best practice questions, students score 53 percent correct before the presentation. After, they score 66 percent.

That immediate impact makes Farag confident he’s made the right choice in incorporating DIES® into his pedestrian safety course for middle schoolers. Not only does it give them firsthand experience in completing two competing tasks, but it proves the point the program’s there to make. A distracted pedestrian is a pedestrian in danger.

“It’s so refreshing to know people are creating resources like this one,” Farag concludes.