Ask any student at Lawrence County High School and they will tell you everyone is doing it.
“Every afternoon I see them pulling out with one hand on the wheel and a cell phone in the other,” said Lawrence County Schools Superintendent Mike Armstrong. “I hope this encourages them to think twice before driving and texting a friend they just saw five minutes ago. Let alone it is against the law.”
To curb the problem of young people driving and texting, a high-tech simulator provided by AT&T was set up at the high school Wednesday and students were invited to test their perceptions about communicating while operating a motor vehicle. For nearly each student who accepted the challenge, the simulated experience resulted in disaster.
Ben Esham, 18, of Louisa did better than most with only a single “road edge excursion” during his turn in the simulator, although he wasn’t able to complete the text he was to send as part of the test.
“I knew there was a construction zone ahead. I probably wouldn’t be texting through a work zone in the first place. You make your decision about where you text,” Esham said after his turn behind the wheel wearing virtual-reality goggles.
The high school senior agreed most younger people do text while driving, and personally feels the practice is safe if a driver pays attention to the situation. It is the precise philosophy the “It Can Wait” campaign hopes to combat, according to AT&T’s David McFaddin, who told students the typical text message takes about five seconds to complete.
Traveling at highway speed, McFaddin said a car will travel roughly the length of five basketball courts during that five seconds, allowing plenty of opportunity for situations from pedestrians to animals and construction zones to go unnoticed. McFaddin told the young drivers insurance companies now commonly pull telephone records after an accident to determine if a driver was distracted by texting, possibly resulting in legal ramifications and higher premiums.
“We want people to use our products, but we want them to use them safely,” said McFaddin. “If you’re texting while driving you are breaking the law.”
McFaddin encouraged people with Android and Blackberry phones to check out AT&T’s “Drivemode” app, which automatically sends a response to incoming texts advising the phone’s owner is driving and unable to return a message at that time.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2651.