Students learn dangers of texting and driving first-handJust last week, texting and driving officially became the leading cause of death among teenagers, surpassing drinking and driving.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Just last week, texting and driving officially became the leading cause of death among teenagers, surpassing drinking and driving.
“Three thousand deaths per year and 300,000 injuries per year as a result of teenage texting and driving,” said Paul Weirtz, president of AT&T Minnesota, on a visit to Cloquet High School Monday. “And it’s not just teenagers who text and drive.”
Thanks to AT&T and the mobile phone company’s virtual reality driving simulator, some 85 students had a chance Monday to sit behind the wheel of a car, don a pair of virtual reality goggles and “go for a drive.” The driving simulator is a computerized car that lets users virtually text and drive — providing a realistic but safe experience for drivers.
Two large flat-screen TVs showed the other students what the “driver” was seeing in his or her goggles, including typical road hazards and driving conditions. Kids were then asked to either send or read a text while they were in the simulator.
“Inevitably, they crash,” said Tom Hopkins, an AT&T spokesman at Monday’s event. “You’re taking your eyes off the road for the six or seven seconds it takes to text or read a text message. At 60 miles per hour, that means you’re driving the entire length of a football field, basically blindfolded.
Sixteen-year-old CHS student Antonio Flores said it was difficult to text and drive.
“I was going over the speed limit when I looked down at my phone,” Flores said. “When I looked back up, someone was in the [virtual] crosswalk and I hit them.”
Texting ranks as the number one mode of communication among teens, and those between the ages of 12 and 17 text 60 times per day on average — up from 50 in 2009. This becomes dangerous when teens hit the road with their phones, since those who send text messages while driving are 23 times more likely to be in a crash.
Nick Niemi, 16, also drove the simulator and agreed with Flores that he will not text and drive in real life.
“I didn’t crash or hit anyone, but I crossed the midline once and I speeded 18 times,” Niemi said.
Using the simulator, AT&T officials and the groups they partner with hope that young drivers learn that no message is so urgent that it is worth diverting attention from the road and risking human lives in the process.
“We are excited to work with AT&T to help raise awareness to the dangers of texting and driving for our students,” said Warren Peterson, principal of Cloquet High School. “Texting while driving doesn’t just affect you; it can change the lives of the passengers in your car, your family, and strangers on the road.”
That message is especially important at this time of the year as Minnesota teens are hitting the road for all types of special events, graduation parties, vacation trips and summer jobs. It’s an exciting time, but a dangerous one. In fact, the days between Memorial Day and Labor Day have been dubbed the 100 deadliest days for teen drivers on the road.
CHS students also watched a seven-minute video documentary called “The Last Text,” which tells the stories of kids — or parents of kids who didn’t survive — who were in accidents because of texting and driving.
“Your life, or someone else’s life, is never worth a text message,” Hopkins said. “We tell them to look at the last text message that they sent. Is it worth dying over?”
A survey commissioned by AT&T indicates that while 97 percent of teens know texting while driving is dangerous, 43 percent of them admit to sending a text while driving — and 75 percent say the practice is common among their friends.
The survey found that teenagers feel pressure to quickly respond to text messages — and adults are also setting a poor example by texting while driving themselves.
Hopkins said AT&T’s free DriveMode cell phone app is designed to help with that involuntary urge to look when the phone rings or dings or otherwise indicates a text message, email or call. When the app is turned on, notification sounds for incoming phone calls are silenced and those who are calling, texting and emailing receive an auto-reply message letting them know the person they’re trying to reach is on the road and will get back to them when they’re not driving.
As a company, AT&T has been at the forefront of efforts to educate drivers to the dangers of texting while driving and has made a proactive push to educate all wireless users — particularly teen drivers — through its national “Texting and Driving … It Can Wait” campaign.
Students were urged to sign a pledge not to text and drive. Rings with “It Can Wait” written on them were distributed to students as well as decals with the same logo to place in the car window.
“Our goal is to save lives,” Weirtz said.” Far too many people have had their lives forever changed by a texting-while-driving accident. We want to spread the word about how deadly a single text can be. We’d like to see texting and driving become as unacceptable as drinking and driving.”
Visit www.ItCanWait.com for more information and to watch “The Last Text.”