KARI DEQUINE HARDEN
New Orleans bureau
November 27, 2012
NEW ORLEANS — No text message is worth dying for — that was the crux of the lesson AT&T representatives brought to students at the Academy of the Sacred Heart on Monday.
The presentation, given to all the ninth- through 12th-grade students, started with a video in which friends and families told their stories of loved ones lost due to accidents caused by texting while driving. The students were then given the opportunity to sit in a simulator with pedals, a steering wheel, a monitor and a phone, designed to demonstrate the attention taken away from the road while sending a text message.
In the first video clip, the friend of a teenager who was killed while driving said that it was just four letters: “yeah,” that were isolated by police as the text sent at the exact time of the crash. It was the friend being interviewed who sent the text, and she talked about living with the knowledge of the role that single word played in her friend’s death.
The second clip told the story of a teenage boy who hit and killed a bicyclist because of a “LOL” text. The boy talked about the grief, depression and self-hatred he dealt with after the crash — all due to a “stupid meaningless text.”
Another boy interviewed was nearly killed and is now severely disabled, because of an text that read just “where r.” Another girl lost her life when she crashed after receiving a “where u at” text, sent by a boy she was heading to meet.
The video ended by citing a study showing that motorists are 23 times more likely to be in an accident if texting while driving.
Students then took turns “driving” the simulator while being instructed on the monitor to reply to texts while driving. The simulation required them to follow speed limits and navigate through traffic. Nearly all who tried ended up in a crash or being pulled over by police.
“It’s essentially driving blind,” presenter Griffin Hagler told the students, explaining that an average text takes five seconds to send, which traveling at 50 miles an hour is the length of a football field.
When one student was hit by another car on the simulator, Leo Marsh, external affairs director for AT&T, was quick to counteract the “not my fault argument.” Marsh pointed out that in the state of Louisiana, if you have a phone in your hand at the time of the accident, it is your fault and with triple the fines. Marsh also pointed out that the texts, calls and times will be tracked down and used as evidence, even if erased.
Part of the awareness event also asked students to make a pledge not to text and drive.
Erik Skrmetta, a Louisiana public service commissioner, said that bringing the simulator and accompanying presentation into schools was important to reach children at a young age, and educate them about the real-life consequences of answering a quick question on their phone from a friend while driving. “Peer pressure is a powerful thing among teenagers,” Skrmetta said. “We hope they use it in a good way.”
Megan Terral, a junior, said that simulator was more difficult than she would have thought, and she was surprised to learn that texting and driving was in many ways as, if not more, dangerous than drinking and driving.
“It can always wait,” junior Margaux Hoffer said, acknowledging that she witnesses the practice of texting and driving fairly often. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a text that was so urgent that I couldn’t wait. Or pull over,” she said.