ROCKY MOUNT, Va. (AP) — If it could work for a bottle of ketchup, surely it would at the scene of a mock car crash.
At least that was the reasoning a group of area traffic safety officers used when they applied a slew of checkered Quick Response codes to their standard crash presentation, given to middle school students each year.
Months of brainstorming and a $10,000 federal grant later, traffic officers, including Roanoke County police Sgt. Tim Wyatt, watched Thursday as students at the Gereau Center for Applied Technology and Career Exploration in Rocky Mount huddled around a mangled car. The teens milled around the wreck, scanning QR codes with iPads.
"Oh my gosh!" one student yelled. "OK, that one is a little scary."
As students scanned, the codes initiated video and audio clips aimed at emphasizing the importance of wearing seat belts and avoiding texting while driving.
If the wreck scene in front of them wasn't enough — with its smashed Pontiac Sunfire and crash dummies splayed glumly across the asphalt — the shocking videos just inches from their faces drove the message home. And that's the type of interaction that officers like Wyatt want to achieve, especially in localities like Franklin County, where teen crashes this year have caught the attention of authorities.
The latest fatal crash in Franklin County involving teens happened in mid-October, near Boones Mill. Six people were involved in that crash, and two later died.
The Thursday safety presentation included demonstrations by officers with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and police from Bedford, Salem and Roanoke County. A Virginia State Police trooper was there, too.
"This is the most attentive I've seen them all day," said Salem police Detective Todd Cheyney, as he surveyed the scene.
The QR code concept was homegrown, dreamed up by Alisa Goodwin, an adult daughter of Steve Goodwin, a DMV transportation safety program manager. Steve Goodwin said that he's not aware of a program like it anywhere else in the state, and that he was pleased with how it evolved into a reality. Using DMV money granted by the federal government, Goodwin and a team of regional traffic officers purchased 13 iPads and set to work linking the codes to videos on their traffic safety website. They named the program ScanEd.
Goodwin said the code interaction changed the reach of the program by creating a one-on-one experience between students and the crash scene. Scanning a cellphone started a video that warned about texting and driving. A code on a piece of debris showed a video of crash aftermath.
"The first group, when they pulled up one video in particular, they were just like, 'Oh, wow!' " Steve Goodwin said.
Getting that reaction isn't always easy. The typical crash presentation includes three stations. One involves showing the effects of airbag deployment. Another allows students to wear warped goggles and get behind the wheel of a golf cart, an attempt to show how drunk driving can affect one's ability to operate a vehicle.
With so much activity, student attention can wander. But when Wyatt invited students to wear earphones and use the iPads, focus returned to the scene.
Wyatt has gone from school to school for several years, anywhere that will allow him to talk, he said. And during that time, the officer said he's seen teen crash numbers in Roanoke County decline. When he started, 25 percent to 34 percent of crashes involved teens, he said. That rate has dropped to 15 percent to 17 percent now.
"Obviously, we'd like to see it get lower," he said.
Michael Bowles, 13, said he was surprised by the code program and the videos attached to the scene. Instead of bland videos with standard messages, the teen said the experience wound up being much more intense.
"It makes you feel like, just don't drive and text," he said.