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ATT sez dnt txt n drv

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 30, 2012 - Texting “LOL” while you’re driving is no laughing matter.

That’s the lesson some Harris-Stowe State University students learned Wednesday from the AT&T texting-while-driving simulator, designed to show how dangerous it can be to take your eyes off the road for even the few seconds it takes to manipulate your thumbs around a tiny keyboard.

After a few minutes in the simulator – where they were likely to strike a bicyclist, a dog or another car – they were more than willing to sign a pledge to keep their hands off their phone while they were behind the wheel.

As one signer wrote on a giant pledge banner: “Don’t text & drive. You could hit your little brother.”

AT&T’s “TXTNG & DRIVNG – IT CAN WAIT” campaign has been traveling around the country to spots like malls, farmers markets and campuses, armed with an effective video called “The Last Text” and statistics about just how dangerous it can be to text and drive at the same time:

  • More than 75 percent of all teens text
  • In the third quarter of 2011, teens texted an average of seven times a waking hour – 3,417 texts a month
  • At 65 miles an hour, a car travels the length of a basketball court in just 1 second
  • Texting while driving requires taking your eyes off the road for 5 seconds
  • 41 percent of teens are afraid to speak up if they are scared or uncomfortable while a passenger in a car
  • The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day are known as the 100 deadliest days on the road

Tony Wyche, with AT&T’s public affairs office in St. Louis, said the campaign began in 2010 as one of “lots of things we’re doing to reach teens where they are.”
The company also has an app known as DriveMode that sends a message to anyone who texts someone while driving:

“Thanks for your message. I’m driving and can’t reply. I will get back to you soon.”

Wyche said the app helps ease teens’ fears that if they don’t respond to a text immediately, their electronic correspondent will think they’re being ignored.

To help teens remember the lessons they learn in the simulator, AT&T also gave out bright orange thumb rings that they’ll be able see if they slip and start to respond to a text that comes in while they are driving.

Based on their reactions as they stepped out of the bright red Hyundai Accent after using the simulator, they probably won’t need much reminding.

For the texting-and-driving exercise, they strapped on goggles that simulated a drive through a typical suburban neighborhood, then were asked to use their phones to text as they normally would.

Jazzy Collins, a junior at Harris-Stowe, admitted that she’s guilty of having texted while driving in the past. “It’s just a habit with our generation,” she said after signing the pledge but before getting into the simulator.

Quaniesha Mack, also a junior, said she also has texted while she was behind the wheel and insisted she doesn’t even have to take her eyes off the road while writing a message.

“I can do it with without looking at my phone,” she said.

But after her simulated accidents, Quaniesha said she won’t be doing it again. “I almost hit a dog,” she said. “I love animals.”

Tiana Gamblin, who will be a freshman at Harris-Stowe this fall, was shaken by seeing a cracked windshield and a dog running into the street.

What is she going to do next time she gets a text message while she’s driving?

“I’m just going to wait until I get to a stop,” she said.

Meanwhile, Collins had taken her turn with the goggles, and she could be heard saying “Oh, my God” several times. The results weren’t pretty.

“I couldn’t even finish my message,” she said. “I didn’t concentrate. I hit a car once and a bike once. That’s not a good thing.”

She said she had nothing to add to the message she had written on the pledge banner before getting into the car:

“Save Yourself & Love Yourself.”

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.