Carlton students risk it all behind the wheelCarlton High School students took their texting while driving skills behind the wheel last Tuesday – but this time it was for all the marbles.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Carlton High School students took their texting while driving skills behind the wheel last Tuesday – but this time it was for all the marbles.
Students were invited to navigate an actual driving course set up in the school parking lot, set up by members of the school’s Txt4Life group. Each student climbed into a specially equipped SUV alongside driver’s training instructor Judy Rengo of the Academy of Driving. They were told if they received a text while navigating the car through the course – complete with stop signs, deer signs, and a few unexpected surprises along the way – they were to respond to it as they went to see how texting while driving affected their driving.
The real-to-life experiment was conceived by sophomore Emily Matlack, a member of the school’s Txt4Life group. Matlack was successful in receiving a grant from the Disney Foundation to help fund a number of initiatives to call attention to the safety issues surrounding misuse of texting, through cyber bullying and texting while driving. An event was held in May that allowed students to test their texting-while-driving abilities with a simulator that recreated the driving experience via computer.
“That was quite effective,” said Txt4Life advisor Deb Saunders, “but Emily got to wondering what it would be like to have a more realistic experience. There are a lot of the computer simulators out there, but we thought, ‘What if someone tried texting on an actual driving course?’”
Matlack contacted Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake to feel her out about the idea, and Lake not only sanctioned the concept but offered the services of Deputy Bridget Karp the day of the exercise to observe and talk with students about texting behind the wheel.
Matlack then ran the idea past Superintendent Peter Haapala, who in turn checked with the school’s insurance provider. With all recommended safeguards in place, the event was a go.
Some 20 students with learner’s permits or driver’s licenses availed themselves of the opportunity to try their hand at texting behind the wheel during last Tuesday’s exercise, with varying results.
Sophomore Jessica Stanslaski was taken by surprise when one of the Txt4Life members stationed along the course suddenly threw a beach ball in front of the car to represent a child or animal that suddenly appeared in the roadway. Stanslaski collided with the ball and it became wedged beneath the front bumper.
“That was really hard,” Stanslaski commented after climbing out of the car. “I’d never texted while driving before – and now I won’t ever do it.”
Fellow student Ryan Walker started right out by running over two orange cones.
The first “fatality” came when Bard Day not only ran over a beach ball but popped it under the tire of the car, leaving it in his wake, completely deflated.
“But I hadn’t even texted yet,” he commented.
“That could have been something running out into the road,” Rengo reminded him. “You have to be aware of everything that’s going on around you, no matter what the distractions.”
Matlack and Saunders said they hope the experiment will help students realize how they need to pay attention to safety first, particularly while texting and driving.
During a break, Karp talked with students about the fines involved with texting while driving – up to $300 – as well as the cost of any possible damage to the vehicle and resulting increases in insurance rates following an accident.
“Just put that phone down and wait,” Karp advised. “And be careful out there.”