Calgary

Option 4 gives young Calgary distracted drivers education instead of fine

Twenty two young people got out of paying a ticket for distracted driving Saturday in Calgary. Instead, they got an up close look at what can happen when you lose focus at the wheel.

‘They had to put my eye back in my face, because I was sending a text message’

Young Calgary-area drivers who attended a distracted driving seminar, Option 4, had their fines waived for an education. (CBC)

Twenty two young people got out of paying a ticket for distracted driving Saturday in Calgary. Instead, they got an up close look at what can happen when you lose focus at the wheel.

On May 4, 2013, Melody Battle was running late for work.

"One moment of distraction changed everything for me … and my family," Battle explains.

She was driving 118 kilometres per hour when she decided to send a text message to her boss.

Melody Battle's life changed in an instant three years ago. (CBC)

When she looked up she didn't have time to stop.

"I got a road grader smashed into my face, the fork actually went through my eye. They had to put my eye back in my face, because I was sending a text message," Battle said.

First responders thought Battle was going to die.

She survived but she now lives with brain damage and she's blind in one eye.

Battle is telling her story to other Calgary-area youth who've been caught distracted driving.

"I realize that they think that it is easy to text and drive but what could happen in the long run, is so scary," Battle said.

Melody's father, Stephen Battle, says her recovery has been a long painful road for his daughter and the family.

Melody's dad, Stephen Battle, says family relationships were affected after Melody's injuries. (CBC)

"Besides having to learn to walk, talk, eat, communicate properly, develop social filters, [she has] come back to being somewhat of a normal girl," Stephen explained.

"We are getting there."

He says family relationships have been affected.

"I have two older boys who have become very distant because I spent so much time with my daughter that I wasn't really there like I should have been for them," he said.

"We have since tried to mend that up with their understanding, but it is so hard for them to understand."

Simon Fournier says he's learned his lesson.

Simon Fournier, 20, says the distracted driving seminar was a lot like the documentary Scared Straight. (CBC)

"Almost like scared straight. Definitely, we all know the consequences, but to see them right in front of you like that, it's definitely eye opening. I already did change my driving habits a little but I think I will drastically change them after today," the 20-year-old said.

Sgt. Darrin Turnbull is with the integrated traffic services in charge of southern Alberta.

He says participants in Saturday's seminar had a choice.

Sgt. Darrin Turnbull says there is pressure on young people to stay connected with smart phones. (CBC)

"The majority of the participants here were issued violation tickets for distracted driving and the officer at the time decided to give them option 4, normally with a ticket there are 3 options: pay, dispute or go to court."

Option 4 allows them to avoid the fine by taking part in the program.

Turnbull says with smart phones, youth have pressure on them to stay in contact with peers, more so than with previous generations.

"The reality for the young people, in this situation, we do have the social pressures that are on them to stay connected. If a boyfriend or girlfriend text the other one, something as simple as, 'Where are you?' … and you don't reply, that is a lot of pressure and they know that and it can lead to issues within their social life so we have to convince all of them to realize, 'Hey, my friend is driving, I am not going to text him or her,' or if he doesn't reply I know that probably he is driving and I won't be upset," Turnbull said.

He says drivers sending text messages are 23 times more likely to get in a crash.

The fine in Alberta is $287 and three demerit points.

For father Stephen Battle though, it's not about tickets or demerits.

"I don't want any parents to have to go through what we went through," he said.

"This has got to stop, it's really got to stop."

With files from Andrew Brown

now