Young drivers learn texting dangers

Young drivers learn texting dangers

October 15th, 2011 by Joan Garrett McClane in News

Gladis Paz, a student of Dalton High School, attempts the Arrive Alive Simulator Car demonstration Friday at Miller-Motte Technical College. Students were given virtual reality glasses and a phone to text with inside of a simulator car in order to demonstrate the dangers of distracted driving.

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.

POLL: Do you text while driving?

Texting Citations in Tennessee

• The state began citing drivers for texting while driving in January 2010.

• In 2010, 171 texting-while-driving citations were issued statewide.

• So far 2011, 132 texting-while-driving citations have been issued statewide.

• In Hamilton County, two texting-while-driving citations have been issued so far in 2011.

The Big Picture

Thirty-four states, including Tennessee and Georgia, ban text messaging for all drivers.

Thirty states, including Tennessee and Georgia, ban all cellphone use for novice drivers.

No state bans all cellphone use for all drivers.

Source: Governors Highway Safety Association

Don't Drive Distracted

• Turn off your phone or put it on silent.

• Set up a special message to tell callers that you are driving and you'll get back to them as soon as possible, or sign up for a service that offers this.

• If you need to make a call, pull over to a safe area first.

• Ask a passenger to make the call for you.

• Know the law in states where you are traveling.

• Review maps and directions before you start to drive. If you need help when you are on the road, ask a passenger to help or pull over to a safe location to review the map/directions again.

• Secure your pets and children properly before you start to drive.

• Refrain from smoking, eating, drinking, reading and any other activity that takes your mind and eyes off the road.

Source: Governors Highway Safety Association.

Becca Kilgore, a timid, blond-headed 15-year-old with just a learner's permit, pressed her foot on the gas -- lightly at first.

One hand directed the wheel. Another fiddled to pop open a flip phone in her lap.

"What is your favorite musician?" the text read.

Her head went up. Then down. Up again. Then down again. Her foot pressed harder on the gas.

Ten mph. Twenty mph. Thirty mph.

"T...a...y...l...o...r...S...w...i...f...," she pecked.

The red light blinked before she knew it, and the tires squealed. She didn't see the woman she hit and killed, either.

Kilgore's text-triggered accident didn't really happen. She was driving and crashed in a simulation vehicle parked outside Miller-Motte Technical College where six busloads of students from six area high schools learned the dangers of distracted driving.

Busy-fingered teenagers can be blamed for many texting and driving accidents, officials say. In Tennessee, drivers with learners permits and intermediate licenses are forbidden to use their cellphones while driving. In Georgia, drivers under 18 can't be seen using their phones, according to state law.

But it's an adult problem, too. A study published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety this month found 35 percent of adult drivers admitted to reading or sending text messages in the last month. Ten percent say they text or email while driving on highways or in heavy traffic.

Ninety-five percent of drivers in the survey said the practice was a serious safety threat, on par with concerns over drunken driving.

That's how Kilgore, a student at Grundy County High School, felt when she tried to text in the simulated car.

"It's embarrassing to say you won't text while driving. You don't want to be the odd person," she said. "But it's more important to worry about your health. ... I'm scared about it."

In addition to reviewing their driving skills, the Arrive Alive Tour, which is based in Michigan but travels campus to campus across the country to warn against texting on the road, also made students watch a movie about what can happen when a driver is fixated on a phone instead of the road.

In the film, a man accused of vehicular homicide in real life sobbed about his regret. In a fictional scene, a group of teenage girls screamed, covered in blood, because the girl driving was texting a boy. An infant in another car was dead in the ensuing pileup.

Texters can get six months in prison for injuring someone, 15 years if someone is killed, according to big, block letters on the screen.

When the students left the film, they were visibly shaken. Some of the girls wiped back a few sniffles.

"It was kind of intense," said Hailey Curtis, a Grundy County High School student.

Still, some were unphased.

John Simmons, 17, skidded, flipped his car and killed a man while texting in the simulator. He was trying to answer the same question about his favorite musician. But he could only type the "k" in Kid Rock before it was too late.

"I've texted. It's hard," he said. "I don't do it often. But I'll probably text and drive again."

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