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CHP hosted exercise
[November 21, 2012]

CHP hosted exercise

Nov 20, 2012 (Orland Press Register - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Texting and driving don't mix.

It was something North State media representatives learned when put to the test at Thunderhill Raceway Park on Tuesday.

About six representatives from area print and television news outlets attempted to navigate a road course while texting, talking on a cellphone and encountering other distractions that the CHP reports have become leading causes of vehicle collisions.

The Willows California Highway Patrol hosted the exercise in an effort to spread the word about the dangers of distracted driving.

"I thought having two boys fighting in the back seat was a distraction, but it's not as distracting as going through a cone course reading a magazine," said Jenn Anderson, an editorial assistant for Tri-County Newspapers who did the driving test.

Katy Sweeny, a reporter with the Chico Enterprise-Record, easily whipped through the course the first time around, but realized later that she had not finished the required text assignment.

"Obviously, I was more conscientious about the cones than I was about the task," Sweeny said.

According to the CHP, about 1.6 million vehicle collision were caused last year by distracted driving, which included using a cell phone, texting, eating, reading or other activity that take the driver's attention away from the road.

"The average text message takes 4.6 seconds," said CHP Public Information Officer Tracy Hoover. "That is the same as driving the length of a football field at 55 miles per hour blind-folded." CHP Lt. Shon Harris said text messaging requires visual, manual and cognitive attention, which can be deadly when it takes away from the cognitive attention needed to drive.

According to US Department of Transportation, text messaging while driving creates a crash risk 23 times higher than driving while not distracted.

Despite the statistics, over 37 percent of all drivers, including most of those involved in the exercise Tuesday have sent or received text messages while driving, and 18 percent reported doing so regularly.

"Distracted driving is the number one killer of teen drivers," Harris said.

Those attempting to navigate the course at Thunderhill on Tuesday found they compensated for the distractions by either slowing down or stopping and backing up to navigate a turn.

Some completely disregarding objects in the course designed to represent pedestrian or other vehicles.

"I found that I slowed my driving when I was concentrating on the text," Anderson said. "Obviously, I can't do both." It is illegal for drivers to talk, text, type, dial or email using handheld cellphones and other handheld communications and entertainment devices.

The law also prohibits drivers from viewing display screens unrelated to the driving task, such as laptops or DVD players, while driving.

"The whole point of the law is to keep your eyes on the road," Harris said.

The use of hands-free devices is still permitted, and drivers may use hand-held devices only to call 911.

Tuesday's exercise was the first distracted driving event for the media held at Thunderhill Raceway Park, although the racetrack has hosted about 30 teen car control clinics designed to teach teenagers to handle emergency driving situations, according to David Vodden, Thunderhill chief executive officer.

Thunderhill has also been the testing ground for Stanford's autonomous car and has hosted the "MythBusters" television show.

___ (c)2012 the Orland Press Register (Willows, Calif.) Visit the Orland Press Register (Willows, Calif.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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