By JEROD CLAPP
Attempting to listen to directions from his friend while driving, Pierce Crawley got a text message from someone else.
“Pizza or hamburgers?” it read.
While responding to that and other texts, the Providence High School senior swerved, missed stop signs and exceeded the speed limit before finally crashing.
Crawley and other students at the school checked out the event held by its chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions on Wednesday. Along with exercises involving drunk goggles, students at the school were the second in the state to try out the new distracted driving simulator.
“It was just much too difficult to type on the phone and pay attention with all the other distractions,” Crawley said. “You’d have to be a pretty superior multitasker to do it.”
The simulator put students behind a virtual wheel, where a passenger tries to give them directions home and a cell phone on the screen flashes messages that demand response. All the while, the normal traffic concerns arise, with merging vehicles, highway speeds and pedestrians all coming into play.
According to distraction.gov, the official U.S. government distracted driving resource website, 3,092 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2010, with another 416,000 injured in similar circumstances.
While the website doesn’t show all distracted drivers as texting, it also said texting can lead to a 23-times higher risk for a crash than if the driver is not distracted.
Geoff Grow, state director for Indiana SADD, said although students behind the driving simulator were laughing at was going on, he thought they still came away with some lessons about the matter of texting and driving.
“For the most part, a lot of them didn’t know the statistics related to text and driving,” Grow said. “It was eye-opening for them to see their classmates going all over the road as they tried to text.”
He said the average text message takes a driver’s eyes off the road for about 4.5 seconds. Traveling 55 mph, he said that’s about the distance of a football field where a person isn’t watching what they’re doing.
He also said that car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the state of Indiana, with distracted driving — including texting — the leading cause of those crashes.
But he also said students see the consequences of their actions in the simulator. They see what kind of a bill they’d get for damage or a ticket, or may even hear a written statement from the parent of a pedestrian they killed.
Erin Duncan, a senior, was one of the school’s SADD volunteers helping with the event. She said while texting is common for people her age, she’s not sure they understand the implications it can have while they’re driving.
“I don’t think most of them understand how important is, but when they get behind this simulator, they understand how dangerous it is,” she said.
Crawley said he hasn’t stayed completely away from texting and driving — which is illegal in Indiana — but after trying the simulator he realized just how much concentration it takes away from the road.
“I don’t do it that much. I know how difficult and distracting it is,” Crawley said. “I’ve done it once or twice and it’s really hard.”