NEWPORT CITY – Driving can be a hazardous activity. Add sending text messages to that and you have a combination that can be deadly.
On Monday, half of the driver education students from North Country Union High School drove a golf cart through an obstacle course at the American Legion. First the students drove through the course without texting and then again while texting. The students who did not go through the course yesterday will go through it today.
The Vermont Youth Safety Council, which sponsored the program, wants to present it to as many high school students in the state as it can.
“We want to teach early that texting while driving is not only against the law, but it's also not a healthy choice to make,” explained Addie Thompson, executive director of the Vermont Youth Safety Council. She said texting while driving was as dangerous as not wearing a seatbelt. “Not buckling your seat belt is against the law, so why text?”
According to Thompson, the reaction time of a 16 to 24-year-old who is texting is the same as a 65 to 74-year-old.
“We don’t want to send the message that cell phones are bad, but there is a time and place,” she said. “While you’re be behind the wheel is not the time or the place.”
Albert Stringer, program director for the Anti-Texting Campaign, said texting is a problem in the state but he would not go so far as to say it is a big problem. He said sending text messages or using a cell phone while driving occurs more often than drinking and driving. The problem, said Stringer, is that the driver is taking his or her eyes off the road. If Stringer had his way, it would be illegal to use a cell phone while driving just as it is to text and drive at the same time.
A hands-on demonstration is much better for the students than having someone tell them, explained Brian Grimm, North Country driver education instructor. “When they experience it, its a whole different message. When they do it and lose control, they suddenly realize they blew it.”
Many of the students were surprised at how their driving changed while they were sending text messages Thomas Martin found the course harder the second time. He was not paying attention to where he was going while sending a text message. The course made Martin decide not to text and drive once he gets his license.
Brittany Verge called driving the golf cart while texting crazy. “I could have hit kids,” said Verge, who vows not to text and drive.
Melissa Carrillo said she found the course more difficult the second time because it is hard to multi-task. And that was the message organizers wanted to send.
“They may have their eyes looking forward, but they are not really focusing on the driving,” said Grimm. “They’re mentally focusing on the texting and messages being sent back and forth.”
Grimm, who would like to see adult drivers also run through the obstacle in a non-intimidating environment, said anyone who sends text messages and drives is mentally distracted.