The teens weren’t sure what their driving instructor was on, but they knew he wasn’t sober.
As CBS New York reported, 16-year-old Lila Mabanta of Centereach, New York, was taking a driving lesson on Saturday morning with three other students when their instructor began acting strangely. It began when the driving teacher, 58-year-old Russell Cohen, began paying his female students some unwelcome compliments.
“He was saying he loved women and called Sarah and I beautiful,” Lila told NBC 4. “So he was really unprofessional and inappropriate the whole time.”
But it was Cohen’s driving that had the teens desperate to get out of the car. He was driving fast and hit the curb at least twice. What’s more, Cohen seemed to realize his passengers were worried.
“He kept telling us, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you. Don’t feel scared or uncomfortable,'” Lila said.
After Cohen hit the curb, the teens came up with a plan to get out of the car safely. They persuaded the instructor that they were hungry and asked him to stop at a McDonald’s. Once there, they ran inside and called 911 to report him for driving under the influence.
When the students didn’t come back out of the restaurant, Cohen drove off. But he didn’t get far before rear-ending another car. The driver of that vehicle, a 29-year-old woman, was taken to the hospital. Fortunately, her injuries were not life-threatening.
When police caught Cohen, his blood alcohol level was more than double the legal limit. He was charged with three counts of endangering the welfare of a child and aggravated DWI.
Lila and her family are grateful the teens managed to get out of the car before the accident. Lila’s mother, Carla, told CBS New York that the students should be commended for their quick thinking:
“I’m very, very thankful that they all thought to get out as soon as they saw that McDonald’s. And that they’re safe. That’s the most important thing. They weren’t taken, they’re all safe and they’re all here to talk about it.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), drunk driving-related crashes account for 28 percent of traffic deaths in the U.S. In addition to teaching teens never to get in a car with someone who has been drinking, parents may want to ensure kids know that even a small serving of alcohol can impair the ability to drive.
After about two drinks, a driver will have trouble performing more than one task and experience a decline in visual function. After three drinks, coordination begins to go, and drivers have difficulty steering and can’t react quickly to an emergency. At four drinks, perception, concentration, and speed control are affected. At five drinks, they won’t be able to stay in their lane or brake properly.
The CDC reports that despite education efforts on drinking and driving, one in 10 high schoolers drinks and drives. It suggests parents educate teens in safe driving habits and model safe driving behavior for their children.