Carlton sophomore brings eye-opening slice of life to fellow studentsThe student was driving along in the car when the text came in. It was from her mother, saying, “We’re ordering pizza. Which do you want — pepperoni or sausage?’ In the course of time it took that student to read the message and send a one-word response, the car had wandered off course and dangerously far over the fog line. The student never saw the woman in gray....
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
The student was driving along in the car when the text came in. It was from her mother, saying, “We’re ordering pizza. Which do you want — pepperoni or sausage?’ In the course of time it took that student to read the message and send a one-word response, the car had wandered off course and dangerously far over the fog line. The student never saw the woman in gray....
That eye-opening experience was repeated time and time again last Friday in the small gymnasium of Carlton High School as students tried their hands at texting and driving on a special computer-generated simulator. What they learned was possibly life changing.
The exercise was the brainchild of sophomore Emily Matlack, a member of the school’s Txt4Life group formed a year ago to encourage teens to text for help at times when they might be feeling suicidal.
“The students in the group wanted to do more about texting safety than just suicide prevention,” said advisor Deb Saunders. “They wanted to do something about discouraging the type of cyber bullying that happens through texting, and they wanted to do something about texting and driving, which was a horrible safety issue.”
With that in mind, Saunders brought to the group’s attention a grant offered through the Disney Foundation, and Matlack was the one who took it and ran with it, writing up the grant proposal.
“I had an idea that I wanted to do something about not texting and driving because I think it’s a big issue among all teens, even upper classmen,” said Matlack. “Statistics show that 97 percent of teens know that texting and driving is dangerous, but 43 percent of them still admit to doing it.”
Matlack said she just got her first cell phone last November, so she admits she’s still learning how to use it and hasn’t actually tried texting while driving.
“Even just changing the channel on the radio can be dangerous,” she added.
After writing the grant proposal, Matlack presented it to the other Txt4Life committee members.
“They all supported her and said, ‘Yes, we want to do this,’” reported Saunders.
The grant of nearly $1,000 was designed to fund the organization of a series of speakers as well as a Safety Fair, complete with texting and driving simulators, to be held as part of Global Youth Service Day which was on April 26. The plan was to also include a virtual obstacle course to show the dangers of texting and driving while behind the wheel of an actual vehicle, which the group plans to stage later this month.
All last week, speakers came to the school to talk about various forms of safety. Representatives from the Carlton County Sheriff’s Department talked to 10th-graders about the dangers of texting and driving. They also talked with juniors and seniors about not drinking and driving, and students got to try the special goggles that impair one’s vision as though they’ve been drinking. The ninth-graders learned about cyber bullying, which is also frequently tied in with texting, and a “No texting while driving” coloring contest was held for the elementary students, with winners receiving theater tickets from Premiere Theatres as prizes.
The culmination of the week was the school-wide Safety Fair last Friday, with members of the Txt4Life group sponsoring booths alongside the Department of Natural Resources and the Carlton County Sheriff’s Department. But it was the texting and driving computer simulators that drew the most attention, as students tried their hand at something they thought would be easy to do.
One of the computer programs featured a car on the screen, complete with steering wheel and posted speed limits.
“You use the arrow keys to maneuver, accelerate and stop,” explained Matlack. “The program sends you text messages on your smart phone, and then you have to type the response and keep watching ahead of you as stop lights turn red at different times and stuff like that.”
“The kids could sync it to their own cell phones,” added Saunders. “They’d get a text message, and while they were trying to drive they had to respond at the same time via text. And then, all of a sudden there’d be a curve or something in front of them....”
Another program featured a series of chutes or traffic lanes the driver had to drive through as they texted. At the end, the computer would send them a graph showing how much better or worse they did at driving depending on whether they were texting or not.
“And then, across the bottom of the screen, it would say something like, ‘Did you see the woman in gray?’” said Saunders. “When they were trying to drive and text, most of them never saw the woman in the road. When they read that, the kids would go, ‘What?’ It was pretty scary.”
Since the program was synced to the students’ own phones, if they decided not to respond to the text it would keep texting them, saying “Where are you? Why won’t you answer my text?”
“It was very true to life,” reported Saunders.
When asked what she, personally, learned about texting and driving from the experience, Matlack said, “There’s a really big $300-plus fine if you’re caught doing it! Also, I realized just how dangerous it is to drive while you’re distracted, whether it’s by the radio, or texting or anything else.”
And as for her friends who tried it?
“I think they were surprised that they couldn’t text and drive and that it was so hard,” said Matlack. “They thought it was going to be a lot easier than it really was.”
When asked what she’d do if she was riding with friends who were texting and driving, Matlack said, “I think I would ask them to turn it off or offer do the texting for them if they felt comfortable with that.”
The next event is May 28, when Matlack and the Txt4Life group will partner with the Academy of Driving for a real-life texting and driving exercise. The plan is to set up an obstacle course in the school parking lot with sheriff’s deputies on hand as well.
Students with a learner’s permit or driver’s license will have the opportunity to get in the car with the driver’s education instructor. As they’re driving, someone will send them a text and the student will be expected to answer so they can see how it impacts their driving. The plan is to also have some beach balls that can be thrown into the course as they’re driving, to represent a child or something else that suddenly appears on the roadway.
Matlack and Saunders said the hope is that all of the events will help students realize how they need to pay attention to safety first, particularly while texting and driving.
“There are other things going on around you that you aren’t in control of when you’re driving,” Saunders pointed out, “so even if you think you’re in control of the texting and driving, something else may come up. We heard from a lot of adults we talked to that it’s a problem with adults as well as kids. But at this age, they’re just learning to drive on their own and it’s their life ahead of them.”