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By STEVEN NALLEY
The Mississippi Horse Park hosted the Starkville Safety Awareness Fair Monday, teaching local children and teenagers the dangers of driving distracted or without a seat belt and bringing together experts on such safety topics as fire, bicycling and self-defense.
Leah Gibson, a Starkville High School student named Outstanding Teen in the Miss Magnolia Pageant, organized the event. Organizations present with information for children and parents included Students Against Drunk Driving, Starkville In Motion, the Starkville Fire Department, Starkville Martial Arts Academy, the American Red Cross, the Oktibbeha County Humane Society and the Oktibbeha County Sheriffâs Office.
Representing OCSO was Lieutenant Robert Elmore, who warned students of the dangers of driving drunk or while texting or otherwise distracted. In his speech, he alluded to a single-vehicle accident which claimed the life of 19-year-old Treasure Huffman on May 9.
âNot long ago, we had an accident where several people were injured and one person was killed out on Oktoc Road,â Elmore said. âSeat belts are important. People do need to wear them. There are officers working overtime ... writing tickets for unbuckled seat belts. Please ... If you have a drink stay off the road and let someone else drive.â
Elmore said young drivers do not necessarily need distraction or drunkenness to suffer a dangerous wreck. Recently, he said, the default speed limit on Mississippiâs county roads was raised from 45 to 55 mph, and that does not mean young adults need to be driving at 55 mph on winding county roads.
âYouâve got to be careful on these roads out there and not overdrive your abilities,â Elmore said.
Activities served to solidify the safety lessons on offer. For instance, guests could attempt to walk a straight line while wearing Fatal Vision Goggles, which simulate the dizziness and disorientation alcohol causes. Gibson herself kept took the guests by the arm to keep them steady.
âIt (is) a little test drive for them without having to get behind the wheel,â Gibson said.
Gibson came up with the idea for the fair as part of her platform for the pageant, which she said is highway safety, particularly pertaining to teen drivers. She then broadened the idea to a full safety fair dealing with other issues, she said, because she did not see such a fair currently operating in Starkville.
âI wanted to put on a safety fair for the community,â Gibson said, âjust to give them information about different organizations and different dangers they might face, such as the rules of the road, bicycle safety (and) helmet safety.â
Gibson said she herself has never lost a close friend or family member to a vehicular accident, but she knows many people who have. She has worked on projects to raise awareness before, she said, but once she joined the Mississippi Student Advisory Board, she wanted to create something more ambitious.
âIâve just found a passion for highway safety and just realized the dangers of the road,â Gibson said. âTeenagers take it for granted that weâre in charge of our lives, and we take advantage of the fact that ... weâre so young. Some of us think weâre invincible, and I know that a lot of people arenât aware of the dangers of the highway and how dangerous it is not to wear their seat belts. So I got really involved with this cause, and I just thought it was really important to find ways to get more awareness out about it.â