By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Teenagers often hear of the dangers of texting while driving, but some Tupelo High students had an opportunity on Wednesday to experience them firsthand.
AT&T brought a simulator to the school’s rubber-floor gym for driver’s education students. It looked like an arcade game – with a chair facing a large computer screen, plus a steering wheel and pedals. The difference was this machine also came with a phone for students to attempt to exchange messages while steering.
They did not last long before crashing.
“It was really hard trying to keep in your lane and looking at the message,” said sophomore Hannah Hudson, 15. “I swerved on the side of the road.
“Knowing that can happen makes you not want to do it.”
Tupelo was the first Mississippi school AT&T visited with its “Texting and Driving…It Can Wait” campaign, which will visit schools across the nation between March and October. Students also were asked to sign a pledge that they wouldn’t read or send messages while operating a vehicle.
“We are trying to show these new drivers the danger of texting while driving,” said Gunner Goad, regional director of external affairs for AT&T. “This simulator shows what happens if you text and a car pulls out. It is a bad epidemic, and we are definitely behind no texting while driving.”
The campaign also includes a website, www.itcanwait.com, which includes an online version of the simulator.
“It was much more difficult than I expected,” said THS sophomore Sam Russell, 15. “I’ll be less likely to text now that I see what happens.”
More than 100,000 vehicle crashes occur annually because of texting while driving, according to National Safety Council figures provided by AT&T.
“It makes it more realistic when you can put a real-life situation in front of them,” said Tupelo Police Cpl. Jon Bramble, a school resource officer. “Instead of us talking, you can give a hands-on demonstration and show the damage.”