Simulator shows students dangers of texting while driving

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and wireless communications carrier AT&T teamed up to bring valuable information to young drivers and those looking forward to driving in a presentation held Friday at the Pine Bluff High School gymnasium.

Compliments of a virtual texting simulator, the teenagers were given a live demonstration of the possible consequences of texting while behind the wheel.

“Please take this serious … and not just as a chance to get out of class,”Jefferson County Sheriff Gerald Robinson said. “We see accidents from people who text while driving every day.”

Robinson informed students that Jefferson County has the highest number of vehicle accidents and, as a result, the highest automobile insurance rates of any county in the state.

The opportunity to “test drive” the virtual texting simulator is a component of the “It Can Wait” campaign, an initiative with a focus on educating people — especially teens — about the dangers of texting while driving.

With the advancing technology of smart phones, people multitasking on their phones while in vehicles is becoming more common, according to Griffin Hagler, AT&T tour manager for the campaign that was originally conceived in 2009.

Hagler said the campaign spearheaded by AT&T has recently joined forces with others in the mobile industry — Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint— as well as more than 2,000 other organizations, to collectively tackle an issue of great concern.

“We care about our customers and want them to be safe,” Hagler said. “We are doing this to save lives but also our goal is to make texting while driving as socially unacceptable as drinking while driving.”

During the presentation, students raised their hands to get a chance on the simulator. A separate screen allowed those waiting to see what occurred as drivers responded to an incoming text while attempting to safely keep their vehicle on the road.

Laughter came from the bleachers as students watched drivers swerve on the highway, run into other traffic or get pulled over by police for other traffic violations.

Brentney Sargent, an 11th-grader at the PBHS, hopes to get her driver’s license soon and wanted to see how the simulator worked.

“By doing this, I can see how hard it really is,” Sargent said.

“It’s not as easy as everybody thinks it is,” said student Earnett Adams III, who already has his license. “The moment you look down you could hit something.”

Students also were given an opportunity to sign a pledge, making a commitment to never text while driving, which causes 100,000 crashes per year, as reported on the campaign website. To date, Hagler reports more than 4 million pledges around the country have been made through the website and events.

Keeping the issue closer to home, Hagler told the students of a teenager from Arkansas who was the subject of the first documentary made as part of the effort to bring awareness. In 2010, “The Last Text” featured Mariah West, a former student from Rogers. The high school senior was reportedly driving to Springfield, Mo., to a baseball game the day before her graduation when the text, “Where you at?” ended her life.

After a majority of students signed pledges, sheriff’s office Maj. Lafayette Woods interacted with students and passed out T-shirts displaying a no-texting message.

The simulator was available in the gym from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

To try a computer-based version of the simulator or for more information about the campaign go to: http://itcanwaitsimulator.org/ or http://itcanwait.com.