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Students learn dangers of distracted driving
SIMULATION — Law Enforcement Liaison Bob Annese, from the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, right, along with Maine State Trooper Dan Hanson, and AT&T regional vice president Owen Smith, watch as Hannah Gallant, a junior at Buckfield Junior-Senior High, uses a state-of-the-art virtual reality driving simulator to show first-hand the risks of texting while driving, during an anti-texting and driving presentation, at the school Monday.
SIMULATION — Law Enforcement Liaison Bob Annese, from the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, explains to students at Buckfield Junior-Senior High on Monday how a state-of-the-art virtual reality driving simulator works, during an anti-texting and driving presentation.
BUCKFIELD — Students at Buckfield Junior-Senior High School on Monday morning were reminded about the deadly consequences of texting while driving and, above all, learned that any text message, no matter how important they think it is, "can wait."
At 8 a.m., students, along with the school's principal, George Reuter, teachers and other staff members, piled into the auditorium to hear an hour-long anti-texting and driving educational presentation, as part of AT&T's "It Can Wait" public awareness campaign.
The goal of the campaign, which began March 2010, is "to save lives and make texting and driving as unacceptable as drinking and driving," said AT&T regional vice president Owen Smith.
In addition to revealing shocking statistics, he showed the students a powerful 10-minute documentary titled "The Last Text."
The video features stories of eight lives that were drastically-altered or even ended because of a few simple words sent via text message – some as simple as "LOL," "YEAH" and "WHERE U AT."
The video can be viewed at www.att.com., under the "About AT&T" and "It Can Wait" tabs.
"Education is a really important piece," in terms of putting an end to texting while driving, Smith said.
During the assembly, Smith counted, by a show of hands, that approximately 50 students at Buckfield Junior-Senior High drive and more than half of them use text messaging on their cell phones. A few students raised their hands and admitted to texting and driving.
According to an AT&T teen driver survey, he said, those who read and send text messages while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash than those who don't.
He also reported that 97 percent of teens nationwide say texting while driving is dangerous – but 43 percent admit to actually doing it.
And it's not just teens who do it, Smith said – according the survey, 77 percent of teens say adults tell them to not text or email while driving, yet adults do it themselves "all the time."
The survey shows that 11 percent of parents nationwide are considered "bad role models" for their kids, in terms of texting while driving. He pointed out that when parents text and drive, their kids, who are watching from the back seat, are more likely to text and drive.
"They need to be an example," Smith said, referring to parents.
Still, he said, there's no excuse for the action. He said every five minutes someone in the U.S. is killed by texting and driving.
"No text is worth dying for," Smith said.
Simple, but deadly
In some cases, a driver involved in an automobile accident could have been just simply reaching for their phone and may have not even read the incoming message, said Trooper Dan Hanson, a crash reconstruction specialist for Maine State Police.
As was the case at a recent accident near Buckfield, Hanson explained, where the car was on its roof just inches from a telephone pole. If it had just been a little closer, there would have been a "pretty good likelihood that person wouldn't have survived," he said.
"He could've killed himself just trying to pick up the phone," Hanson said.
"Ignore it [the phone]. Put it on silent," Hanson advised the students.
Smith picked students from the audience to read aloud the last text message they sent, to help them understand the reality that any text message "can wait" – especially once they obtain their drivers license and get behind the wheel.
"How are you doing?" one student read aloud. Other students read that "good" was the last text message they sent, or "love you too."
"Happy birthday, I love you and miss you," read one student; at which point, the audience gasped, after realizing that, had their classmate been driving at the time they sent the text, they could have possibly crashed the car – and died.
Smith said the AT&T stats also revealed that 60 percent of teens admit to texting at a red light; 61 percent admit to glancing at their phone while driving; and 73 percent of teens admit to glancing at their phone while stopped at a red light.
Worth the risk?
Despite the car being in motion, Smith said, "there really isn't any reason to read or respond [to a text] while you're driving ... Is it really worth the risk of your life or somebody else's life to do that?" he asked the students.
He explained that aside from texting, there are other forms of distracted driving – visual, manual and cognitive – which involve eyes or hands being off the wheel, or taking your mind off the task at hand, and are also potentially deadly.
Texting and driving incorporates all three types, Smith explained, which is why it's so imperative that teens – and their parents – are educated about the dangers.
According to Smith, for someone to have their eyes off the road for five to six seconds, the average time it takes to send or receive a text, while driving 55 mph, is equal to the length of traveling a football field.
"It's dangerous. It doesn't make any sense," Smith told the students. He said the number of traffic fatalities nationwide, caused by texting and driving, has increased steadily since 2009.
He said, on average, 200,000 automobile accidents nationwide are caused each year by texting and driving – about half of them result in life-threatening, life-altering injuries or death. He said 84,000 text messages are sent through AT&T's network every second.
It's the law
Just last year, Maine passed a bill that strengthened its texting while driving laws, Smith told the students.
A driver who violates the law can receive a minimum of $250 fine, he said, up from $100.
It also increases fines and terms of license suspensions for violating conditions on a juvenile provisional license and increases the time repeat offenders lose their provisional licenses for violations.
But some drivers, Trooper Hanson said, aren't as lucky. In his 14 years of law enforcement, he has dealt with numerous vehicle accidents where the driver, or even passenger, is declared dead on scene.
"I get the see the aftermath of a lot of bad choices that young people make," Trooper Hanson said.
"Somewhere on that scene ... is a body in the roadway, a white sheet covering up somebody in the car. Somewhere ... is that sheet," he said, explaining his job, "and that's where I go."
"When I lift up that sheet, more often than not, I see limp, lifeless bodies of once energetic kids," he told the students. More often than not, he wonders, "don't they know that these things happen? Don't they know this is a risk of their actions?"
Hanson said while it's "inevitable" to respond to fatal accidents involving teens, he asked the students to simply stop texting and driving.
"Please ... think about it; when you go to grab that phone ... tell yourself, 'It can wait.' Because it really can. Your life is worth more than that."