Fifteen-year-old David Henderson doesn’t drive yet, but he got a firsthand look on Friday about how dangerous texting and driving can be.
During a workshop at the Jack and Jill of America Midwestern region leadership conference held at the University of Akron, Henderson and other teens tried a simulator that sent them text messages while they drove. About 400 teens from an eight-state region are at UA through Saturday with 200 parents for the national organization started by African-American mothers who wanted to empower their youth.
During the texting simulation, sponsored by AT&T, Henderson, of Detroit, looked down for a split second to answer the text. He swerved the car into oncoming traffic and hit another car head-on. Other participants crashed their cars while trying to text.
Before the group of teens tried the simulation, AT&T Area Director of External Affairs Stephan Kristan showed a video, ‘‘The Last Text,’’ which featured several families discussing their loved ones who had died from sending a quick text. Several of the teens who died or one who is permanently disabled were sending “quick, meaningless” texts, their loved ones said on the video.
“We all think we can text and drive and the problem is we can’t,” said Kristan, who himself was the victim of a distracted driver. “I’m trying to save your life.”
Kristan shared some sobering statistics:
• Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be in an accident, according to Virginia Tech Transportation Institute research.
• 43 percent of teens and 49 percent of adults admit to texting while driving, according to recent AT&T surveys.
• 77 percent of teens have seen their parents text and drive, and 75 percent of teens say its common among their friends to text and drive, according to the survey.
Kristan said AT&T has been joined by other cell providers Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint and 200 companies, in the It Can Wait campaign to try to encourage people not to text and drive. Information can be found at www.itcanwait.com, including the Last Text video and the link to the driving simulator.
After the session, Henderson said he had seen commercials on TV about the dangers of texting and driving, but didn’t think about how it could lead to death.
“I learned its important to keep your eyes on the road, even for one second, or you can die,” he said.
Chris Jackson, 14, of Detroit, said, “It really resonated with me. It showed me it is real.”
Courtney Harper, 15, also of Detroit, said she knows the urge will be there to text when she starts driving.
Zuri Cheathem, 14, of Detroit, said, “It’ll be something I’ll try to work at.”
Cheathem said he’s seen his mom look at emails while driving, and his parents have begun asking him to respond for them while they drive.
Kristan offered the teens a tip sheet, which included assigning a designated texter when you’re on the road with friends and family, putting the phone out of reach to avoid the temptation of texting and downloading free apps for smartphones, AT&T’s DriveMode and Verizon’s Safely Go app, which send automatic messages and temporarily hold texts while a person is driving (available currently only for Android and Blackberry).