Distracted driving lesson scares teens to safety
Apr 13, 2012 (The Charlotte Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
High school senior Eric Shaw says he can remember riding along as his older sister drove, and seeing her grab her phone to talk or text with someone. He also recalled the near accidents they had while she used her phone.
Shaw said the memories made him want to look for ways to keep other young people safe while they're on the road.
On Friday, he talked with his classmates at the Performance Learning Center near uptown about the dangers of distracted driving and shared insights he learned while doing a senior exit project on the topic.
The students also got first-hand experience in those dangers, thanks to a police officer, a golf cart and a traffic cone-lined obstacle course.
Reading a text, Shaw said, can take your eyes off the road for five seconds -- roughly the amount of time it takes to drive the length of a football field.
"I'll try to do everything I can to keep spreading the word, and hopefully save lives," he said.
Across the country, many governments and safety advocates have called on people to stop texting, or to use hands-free devices if they must use their cell phone while driving. Chapel Hill leaders recently took it a step further, banning all phone use by drivers starting in July.
In a 2009 study, one in three 16 and 17-year-olds who text on their phones said they had done so while driving. Meanwhile, about 48 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds say they have been in a car while the driver was texting, according to the study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
Federal studies also show teens are more likely than people of other ages to be in a fatal crash where a driver is distracted.
To demonstrate the potential dangers, a N.C. Highway Patrolman rode alongside more than a dozen local students Friday as they tried to navigate through a "safe driving" obstacle course lined with traffic cones as they read a message on a cell phone.
Several knocked over cones. Still more tried to slow down as they struggled to drive and read.
Shardai Lewis lost control of the cart about half-way through the course after taking one hand off the wheel. The 17-year-old senior said she's only had a driver's permit for about three months and already tries to drive slowly.
Now, she says, she won't even think about using the phone. And the radio is out, too.
"It was fun," she said of the demonstration. "But I would never do that in real life."
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