Getting the message

12/5/2012

Simulator shows students risks of texting while driving

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.

When most people think about texting, they think about the act of typing a text, a dangerous thing to do while driving. But on Tuesday, students at Garden City High School watched how even reading one-word texts can result in tragedy.

"It was kind of crazy, seeing how one word can take your life," 17-year-old Morgann Audrain said. "Like five seconds, and it's all gone."

She was referring to a video called 'The Last Text,' shown to students in the high school gym during AT&T's "It Can Wait/No Texting and Driving" in-car simulator event. In the video, an 18-year-old girl was killed after flipping her vehicle, as a result of reading a text that simply said, "Yeah."

The video featured several other scenarios, in which the decision to text while driving caused either serious injuries or fatalities. One featured an interview with a teenager, who after texting, "Lol," to a friend, struck and killed a bicyclist. The anguish and guilt that the young man suffered as a result of the tragedy captured the students' attention.

GCHS Principal James Mireles said he had never heard students be so quiet during a film.

"I think they took the video very seriously. Usually you don't hear them that quiet, but they were locked on there going, 'This could be me,'" he said.

Lucas Goss, 16, said that while he doesn't do it often, he feels pretty confident in his abilities to text while driving. After watching the video and then attempting to maneuver the texting-while-driving simulator, however, Goss signed a pledge saying he would no longer text and drive.

"Especially after seeing that video," he said, adding that it surprised him that a wreck could occur from reading a one-word text.

AT&T External Affairs Manager Les Depperschmidt said that the video sends a powerful message.

"The visual is as impactful as the words," he said, referring to photos of the mangled vehicles involved in texting and driving accidents. "It's a great message, and we're just hoping it sinks in with some of them."

Depperschmidt said that another danger associated with texting and driving is the expectation of a rapid response.

"Teenagers expect to get a response, so they're looking at their phones all the time, but it's not just teenagers. It's everybody who's old enough to text," he said.

After watching the video, students took turns at the texting-while-driving simulator, a computerized car that lets users virtually text and drive, providing a realistic but safe experience for teens to understand the dangers of texting behind the wheel.

Jill Fischer's simulated drive ended when she rear-ended a vehicle while trying to text, "I need a ride to the mall. I need a new pair of shoes."

"It's like you just think you have everything under control, like you're really paying attention, and then you look up and something's there," said Fischer, 17. "I probably won't text and drive anymore now. I like living."

Depperschmidt said that there is also an online simulator at ItCanWait.com that allows anyone to get behind the wheel, virtually, and see what happens when one texts and drives.

Mayor David Crase also shared some alarming statistics about texting and driving with the students.

"Seventy-five percent say texting and driving is common among their friends, and statistics show that texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be in an accident. The dangers of texting and driving are real, so I hope you will try the simulator, sign the pledge and encourage your friends to do so, as well. The power to stop this is in your hands," he told the students.

Other statistics shared with the students showed the distance that a car can cover at various speeds. Going 55 mph, a car can travel the length of a football field in five seconds, the average time that it takes to either send or read a text. In his simulation experience, Goss said he had to try to text a whole paragraph.

"It was pretty hard. Anything can happen in that amount of time," he said.

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