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TEXT LESSONS: Students attend Farm Safety Awareness Day
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Students attempt to text and drive wheelchairs during Farm Safety Awareness Day, Wednesday at Barton Community College. The passenger read a message, and the driver sent it as a text message, which resulted in several accidents. Barton County Farm Bureau hosted the day of safety talks and demonstrations for area high school students. - photo by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune

Area high school students were all over the road Wednesday as they attempted to send text messages while driving – and there was no way they’d avoid the occasional pedestrian in the cross walk or deer crossing their paths.
Fortunately, no one was hurt, because the “drivers” were steering wheelchairs along a closed course inside the Case IH technical training building at Barton Community College. The object lesson on the dangers of DWD – driving while distracted – was one of several presentations and demonstrations at the Barton County Farm Bureau Association’s 14th annual Farm Safety Awareness Day.
Maggie Basgall with Nex-Tech challenged students to push a wheelchair through the course while sending text messages over their cell phones. The passengers read from a list of messages to send. “Most of the text messages were perfect,” Basgall said, “but there were about 20 accidents.”
This year’s Farm Safety Day brought 114 students from area schools. Sophomore Marcus Foos from Stafford High School said his school sent the FFA, while senior Sydnie Bilbrey from Hoisington High said all students were invited to sign up if the topic interests them. Most of the safety topics covered information any teenager should know, on or off the farm, such as the dangers of distracted driving. Fellow Nex-Tech presenter Jacque Beckman asked the teens how many had cell phones, and nearly every hand was raised.
“Don’t be a statistic,” Beckman told them. “Your life and that of your families and friends is too important.” Even a short message like “LOL” (laughing out loud) can take a driver’s eyes off the road. The average text takes five to six seconds to read or send, and a car traveling 65 mph can travel the length of two football fields in that amount of time.
Other topics included: “First on the Scene,” by Barton Community College Emergency Medical Service educator Jennifer Ladd; “Tractor and Equipment Safety,” by Doug Barrett from Case IH; “Seat Belt Safety,” with Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Steve Billinger and the rollover simulator; and “ATV Safety,” by BCC student Jamie Stroud. There were also presentations by BCC ag instructor Vic Martin and Farm Bureau District Administrator Matt McCabe.
Kyle Schartz, president of Barton County Farm Bureau, reminded students that 24 million Americans are employed in agriculture or related fields, and that number is almost certain to grow.
“Between now and the year 2050, we’ll have to double our production to keep up with the population,” Schartz said.
Barton County Farm Bureau Board member Bill Berchek, chairman of Farm Safety Day, said the annual event is free and open to area high school students who are involved or interested in agriculture. The goal is to educate young people on proper safety precautions.