By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Giggling and talking to her friends, Aimee Spears sat down and grabbed the steering wheel. Spears accelerated and made her way through city streets when her phone buzzed at her.
Spear’s “mom” wanted to know what she would like to eat for dinner and when she’d be home. As Spears, a Norman North High School sophomore, looked away from the road to answer her “mother’s” text message, another car plowed into the driver’s side of Spears’ vehicle.
No longer joking with her friends, Spears stood up from the driver’s seat and walked away. The virtual reality driving simulation was over.
More than 100,000 times a year, people are injured or die because of texting while driving. If Spears had been driving a real vehicle and not the AT&T virtual reality driving simulator, she could have been seriously injured or died because of her actions, which is what the AT&T “It Can Wait” campaign team members said they hoped students would learn from their visit.
On Tuesday, the AT&T “It Can Wait” program visited Norman North High School to highlight the dangers of distracted driving and allow students to experience the dangers of texting while driving first-hand with a virtual reality driving simulator.
The program also visited Noble High School on Wednesday.
The program presented a short video that featured individuals who were severely injured in a car accidents caused by texting and driving as well as individuals who knew someone killed due to texting while driving.
Norman North freshmen Jordyn Kauakahi and Macee Greer said the video was really sad and impacted them.
“I’m definitely too terrified to (text and drive) now,” Kauakhai said.
After the video, students had the opportunity to try the driving simulator and make a pledge not to text and drive.
Norman North Principal Bryan Young said he hoped students would acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving and make the pledge because, previously, Norman North students had been injured due to texting while driving.
The AT&T chair driving simulator is a computerized system that lets users virtually text and drive while providing a realistic but safe experience for drivers and teaching them the risks and dangers of texting and driving.
While using the simulator, students had to keep their eyes on the road and react to common driving challenges such as remaining within the speed limit, driving through construction areas, stopping at stoplights and avoiding other negligent drivers, all while reading and responding to text messages sent by their “mother” or “friends.”
Students had to answer texts such as “what do you want for dinner?”, “are you doing anything fun this weekend?” and “where are you?”
Many students swerved the vehicle between lanes, ran stoplights, stopped in the middle of the road, hit medians or parked cars, crashed the vehicle or were pulled over.
After testing the simulator, Norman North counselor Liz Barnes said she thought the program would be helpful to students.
“They need this. This generation is so attached to their cell phones,” Barnes said.
Freshmen Allison Garner, Emily Rowin and Paige Abdinor said they didn’t plan to text and drive, but all of their parents did.
Abdinor, who tried out the simulator, said she was surprised that it was a lot harder than she expected. Spears also said her mother texts and drives.
“My mom does it, but I feel like I can trust her,” Spears said.
Griffin Hagler, tour manager, said his team hears a lot of teens say their parents text and drive.
“In the last AT&T Commuter Survey, 49 percent of adult commuters admitted to texting while driving, but only 43 percent of teens admitted to texting while driving,” Griffin said. “So it’s really a problem across the board. However, we’ve found, though, that if asked, drivers said they would stop texting and driving.”
Norman North freshman Shawnie Laehn said she had asked her mom not to text and drive before and would continue to do so after attending the program.
The “It Can Wait” team emphasized that one text, only a few seconds, could change students’ lives and asked if a text message was worth loosing their lives over. Many Norman North students, like sophomore Chris Knight, pledged not to text and drive.
“For me, it’s just a matter of people getting their priorities straight,” Knight said.
To help drivers stop texting, AT&T has an app called DriveMode that provides a customizable auto-reply message, notifying a text message sender that the driver is busy driving and can’t respond.
To learn more about the “It Can Wait” program and the DriveMode app or to take the pledge not to text and drive, visit ItCanWait.com.
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