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For teens, simulation underscores dangers of texting while driving
[May 24, 2012]

For teens, simulation underscores dangers of texting while driving

May 24, 2012 (Las Vegas Sun - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Clutching her iPhone, 16-year-old Ashton Skrobak grabbed the steering wheel, started driving and promptly looked down to send a text message.

Don't worry. She wasn't on a Las Vegas freeway, or even inching forward for that matter.

She was in a red Hyundai Elantra parked Wednesday morning in the courtyard of Green Valley High School. But it wasn't your average car. It was decked out with a virtual system to simulate the dangers of texting and driving, part of an AT&T program to raise awareness among teen drivers.

It didn't take long for the message to sink in. Skrobak estimated she hit a child in the video game-like simulation within the first 10 seconds.

"It was scary," said Skrobak, who hopes to get her license in a month. "I know not to text and drive now because I don't want to hit a kid." Memorial Day begins what law enforcement authorities call the 100 deadliest days for teen drivers -- a stretch of time that often includes proms, graduations and summer vacation.

Four drivers' education classes at Green Valley High School visited the texting-and-driving simulation car Wednesday morning, said Stephanie Tyler, president of AT&T in Nevada. The simulation car was at a Phoenix high school Tuesday and will be on its way to a Salt Lake City school Thursday, she said.

"Go out and enjoy yourself and your youth, but put your phone away," Tyler said, explaining the program's message.

Drivers who text while they operate a car are 23 times more likely to be in a crash or near-crash than nondistracted drivers, according to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Drivers traveling at 55 mph will go the length of a football field during the time it takes to send a five-second text message, Tyler said.

Henderson Police Sgt. John Gayer told students a person's driving ability while texting was similar to that of a drunken driver.

"In other words, you're legally drunk when you're texting and driving," he said. "It sounds kind of serious, doesn't it?" In the eye of Nevada law, it is. A ban on using hand-held cellphones while driving went into effect this year in Nevada. First-time offenders are subject to $50 fines.

Jade Welton, a 17-year-old junior at Green Valley High School, said she often saw her peers texting while driving. As far as she's concerned, a text message can wait.

"I think this simulation (is) a really good way to show people how serious this is," she said. "You look down for one second and you're on the other side of the street." ___ (c)2012 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.) Visit the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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