Before the close of a week that has taught rising high school senior boys how government works, some 385 Boys State delegates listened to frank talk from a veteran highway patrolman who has seen many fatalities as the result of distracted or impaired driving.
Lt. John Poulos, director of public affairs with the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol, told the young men who represent hometowns and high schools from across the state, they must decide for themselves to save their own lives.
Mississippi consistently ranks No. 1 in the nation for teenage driving fatalities, and not wearing a seatbelt is the factor that is the No. 1 killer, he said.
Poulos emphasized that not only is their own seatbelt use important, but to be safe, every passenger in the vehicle should be buckled up.
"When that vehicle comes to a stop, if you're not restrained, your body is going to be like a ping pong ball, and it can take everyone's life," Poulos said. He proved his points with videos that demonstrated the devastation that can occur in just seconds during an accident.
Poulos said he's heard every excuse in the world for not wearing seatbelts, including the famous "it's uncomfortable" line, but he asked the boys to imagine how uncomfortable life is for someone who has been paralyzed as a result of having an accident while they were not wearing a seatbelt.
"That simple little click saves lives. You need to figure out how much you want life," he said.
Poulos explained that the human brain cannot respond quickly enough to be able to text and safely operate a vehicle. He told his audience that to send a text, they must pull over and stop their vehicle. Otherwise, they are putting their own life and the lives of others in jeopardy.
"You're leaders, but we're losing too many of you. Do not let somebody make the decision that takes your life," Poulos said.
He also advised the boys that law enforcement is a difficult job, but one that demands good people.
"We have to have leaders step up to help us with the issues we're going to face. It's going to take people like you," he said.
The Mississippi American Legion Boys State program concluded their week at Mississippi State University by announcing more than $30,000 in scholarship awards. MSU is serving through 2015 as host campus to Boys State, which is considered to be the nation's premier program for teaching how government works while developing young men's leadership skills and honing their appreciation for the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
For more information about Boys State, visit www.msboysstate.com. For more about Mississippi State University, see www.msstate.edu.