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Teens learn danger of texting while driving
[May 18, 2012]

Teens learn danger of texting while driving


May 18, 2012 (The Orlando Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Oak Ridge High School junior Ashley Mathieu hasn't had much experience behind the wheel, but one thing she knows is texting and driving don't mix.



The 16-year-old reinforced that notion Thursday in the school's cafeteria by getting into a parked Nissan Versa equipped with a simulator.

Ashley split her concentration between looking at the virtual roadway through the simulator's goggles, holding the steering wheel, pushing the gas pedal and sending a text message. She lasted less than a minute before crashing.


"It really made me feel like texting is something I don't want to do while driving," she said. "When I see my friends text and drive, I'll snatch their phones away." The simulation program, part of AT&T's 30-city tour across the U.S., visits high schools to allow beginning student drivers experience the dangers of texting on a simulated roadway.

Orlando is one of the Florida cities, including Miami, Tampa, and West Palm Beach that hosted the "Txtng & Driving ... It Can Wait" program. The wireless carrier will take its campaign to Jacksonville today.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers say they are seeing more drivers of all ages distracted by their cell phones on the road. A 2009 Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study used by the FHP shows that in texting-related crashes, drivers spent five seconds looking at their devices -- enough time to drive the length of a football field at typical highway speeds.

Teen drivers with less experience on the roadway are at a higher risk of enduring crashes caused by inattention, according to a recent report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Texting behind the wheel, horseplay with passengers, and running red lights were among the top distractions noticed in novice teen drivers. They are about 130,000 teens behind the wheel in Central Florida's six-county area, FHP says.

About 250 students at Oak Ridge High "drove" in the simulator, with many of them striking pedestrians, signs and other vehicles. After taking their turn, each student signed a pledge board and received a black, rubbery ring printed with the message, "TEXTNG KILLS." In addition to the simulation, high-school students watched videos, including several brief YouTube clips showing real stories from victims, drivers, and family members whose lives were hurt by a teen texting while driving.

The goal isn't to scare student drivers but instill a sense of responsibility on the road, a company official said.

"We want to warn kids about the dangers so they can influence others, including their parents," said Gretchen Schultz of AT&T.

School Principal Leigh Ann Bradshaw, who also participated in the simulation, later admitted she sometimes falls into bad habits on the road.

But when Bradshaw is her children's passenger and their cell phones ring, she quickly tells them, "Don't even think about it." "You think that a quick text message won't make a difference, but you know better," she said. "This simulation gives you the opportunity to see how something could happen in that one brief moment of taking your eyes off the roadway." wpacheco@tribune.com or 407-420-6262 ___ (c)2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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